The behavior attributed to Zeta Beta Tau by the Fraternity and Sorority Review Board on Friday is abhorrent, and the sexist ideas underlying such behavior must be addressed within the University. The “contest” described in the report is an exercise in hazing and sexism, and shows a severe lack of judgement by those involved.
Women are not points to be won. Using women and their bodies as a path toward higher social stature is unacceptable. The casual labeling of women as “pigs” is sexist and dehumanizing — and the brothers of ZBT should take a moment to think about how the women they objectified are feeling today. Those women didn’t ask to be treated with disrespect, and the reported lengths to which ZBT went to keep the “roast” a secret indicates that they themselves understood how hurtful their actions were, and yet continued them anyway. And they should also consider whether they want to continue to be a fraternity that places positive value on misogyny.
Furthermore, the “contest” is incredibly disrespectful to the new members of the fraternity. It institutionalizes the notion that copious (straight) sex, and the commoditization of women, is the way to acceptance. Associate members of fraternities occupy a socially vulnerable position, and it is abusive on the part of full brothers to establish sex as the metric by which pledges prove their worth to the brotherhood.
Although the University made the decision to place ZBT on probation rather than suspension, sororities should strongly consider refraining from mixing with the fraternity until substantial changes are implemented and improvements demonstrated. The actions detailed in the report are not the actions of an organization that deserves social privileges.
Last semester, an act of hate brought national attention to Cornell’s struggles with racism, and as a result, the Greek Tri-Council wrote and began to implement a broad diversity and inclusion plan. We should approach this act of misogyny with the same seriousness and fortitude, and let it motivate us to create a safer, more welcoming Cornell.
Importantly, the University and IFC cannot merely focus their educational efforts on just this one chapter. Throwing the rulebook at ZBT while allowing similarly destructive environments to fester elsewhere will accomplish little in the long term. Any solution must be comprehensive, include input from campus leaders from within and without Greek life, and be applied fairly and consistently.
These changes are not going to happen overnight. Racism and sexism are not “quick fixes,” and anyone who thinks otherwise simply hasn’t been paying attention for the past six months, or the past 60 years. But that does not mean we should ignore them.
Students and faculty at Cornell already work year-round to solve problems that confound the rest of the world. Let us too be on the cutting edge of the fight against racism and sexism, starting here.
The first step identifying the problem when we see it. What ZBT did is part of the problem, and we all must recognize and acknowledge that. Their actions are detrimental to the Greek community and all students who call Cornell home. We can and must expect better.