February 12, 2018

GUEST ROOM | Do More Than Decry the Greek System: Fix It

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In a recent column entitled “Don’t Decry the Greek System if You Use It for Your Own Gain,” Ara Hagopian performs the “oft-necessary task of criticizing people who agree with [him].” While using the recent Zeta Beta Tau incident to criticize the overuse of the word “woke,” he says the only solution to the Greek system is to stop attending fraternity parties, realign one’s actions with one’s morals and consider how Greek life leads to oppression.

I am disgusted by Hagopian’s feeling of being “vindicated” by the pig roast competition at Zeta Beta Tau. While his assumptions about fraternity culture may have been confirmed by their actions, no one should enjoy being proven right at the cost of another person experiencing pain. By beginning his column in this manner, I am forced to question Hagopian’s motives in writing it. I am less convinced they stem from a sense of altruism but moreso from an inflated ego. Nonetheless, I will entertain some of the ideas he presents.

I more than agree that “woke” has become a buzzword. Too often, people who experience privilege use it to make themselves feel better about experiencing that privilege. Yet, there is something to be said for people who don’t use the word “woke” but are incredibly aware of their privileges and actively try to educate themselves and advocate for inclusion.

Furthermore, I am confused by his call to action in regard to the Greek system. While he criticizes leaders by saying that they are “overrated,” he simultaneously says that “you don’t have to become an activist, go to a protest or join a philanthropy club on campus.” What’s the answer then — quit? Distance yourself from the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist? I am unwilling to believe that the only solution to the problems rampant in the Greek system is to quit it and ignore them. Refusing leadership positions, belittling the efforts of people in those positions and advocating withdrawal creates bystanders, the most harmful role of all.

And finally, the idea that one should not join Greek life because of “your female friends or your gay female friends or even your mother” is incredibly harmful. Not only does it erase the fact that people within the Greek system are LGBTQ+, but it reinforces the idea that you should only stand up to injustice because it affects people close to you. That’s not an “empathy boat,” that’s empty sympathy that goes nowhere. It allows people who don’t have, or care about, female friends or gay friends or a mother to escape from the problems of the system. This is the same rhetoric used by conservative politicians after the release of Trump’s Access Hollywood tape: “I have a [insert female relative here], therefore I am disgusted by this sexism.” Instead of using the women and minorities in our lives as reasons to stand up against injustice, let’s fight against injustice simply because it is wrong.

I am not denying that the Greek system has its problems. It definitely does. Yet, I am unwilling to agree with Hagopian’s solution of inaction. In the face of this challenge, the Greek system needs fearless leadership, a commitment to systematic change, and an optimistic vision for the future.

 

 

Maya Cutforth is the vice president of citizenship, diversity and inclusion for the Panhellenic Council and a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. Comments can be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com.