February 21, 2018

GUEST ROOM | Denounce the Sin and the Sinner

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In a recent article published by the Cornell Review, Hyung Ahn writes that we should “hate the sin, not the sinner,” in response to the recent report of Zeta Beta Tau brothers’ “pig roast” sexual contest. However, I propose and strongly encourage that we denounce both. To frame such an incident as carried out by a “few immature boys who happened to be part of the same group” is a simplistic, uninformed and naive way to approach issues as complex as gender power dynamics, toxic masculinity, Greek life and administrative involvement.

The fact of the matter is that these immature boys are not boys: they are men and they are adults. They are responsible for their actions and the actions of the groups with which they associate. They must intervene if their fraternity or fraternity brothers are acting in a socially irresponsible manner. If these fraternity brothers are not actively calling out and stopping these breaches on gender equity as they occur, they are complicit in them. It no longer becomes a few boys who all happened to be pals within an established group. The problem becomes the group. When a number of people in an organization such as a fraternity act upon something in a positive way, they represent the letters of their house. They are seen as a strong brotherhood, all for one. Why is it that when they do something bad they are no longer seen as representatives in the same light? We cannot separate ZBT from its brothers, for it is the brothers that make the house.

The issue is not only what happened at Zeta Beta Tau, but also that we allow ourselves to become desensitized to a culture that exploits women and defines their worth, beauty and attractiveness based on weight and other superficial criteria. We allow students of privilege to demean their peers for the purpose of boosting their sociopolitical clout on an already elitist university campus.

If we continue to perpetrate this “boys will be boys” attitude, we will never solve this problem. This is not solely a ZBT issue, or a fraternity issue: this is a human issue. As humans, the ways in which our assigned genders act in environments such as fraternities and sororities are entirely socially constructed. Men are not wired to demean women. If we want to change the way we as a society function, we need to rewire the way we think. We must teach men from the day they are born that to be a man means being intimately aware of one’s emotions. It means respecting others. It means accepting vulnerability as a strength. It means not falling victim to groupthink where we allow a group to create a point system that boosts men’s egos by ranking the women they screw by the number on their scale.

Many believe that ZBT has faced enough punishment. They have formally apologized, are on probation and will receive the cold shoulder from their female counterparts. But is it really enough to slap them on the wrist and for sororities to starve them of their social calendar? What people aren’t talking about is the trauma and pain that the women involved in this atrocity likely feel now that ZBT’s agenda was exposed. ZBT cannot give back to these women the respect they have already denied them. Sororities in the future will forget about this incident, brothers who join the house in the years to come will likely not know that it has happened. All will return to the way it was just weeks ago before the outside knew of the “pig roast” and I am all too sure that it will happen again. When it does, I hope that no one is surprised.

I would rather see my chapter, and every other chapter on this campus, disbanded if it meant that we were finally going to address the elephants in the room that are sexual assault, toxic masculinity and power complexes. The roots of the problem are not Greek houses, but it seems that they do everything that they can to contribute to it.  As someone who is a member of Greek life, I am telling you that our administration has not done enough. As a woman in Greek life, I am telling you that fraternity culture like the one exhibited in ZBT makes women feel unsafe on this campus. As a sexual assault survivor in Greek life, I am telling you that no man who has wrongly touched me can make it better with a disingenuous apology. As a Jew in Greek life, I am telling you that the fact that ZBT is a “traditionally Jewish fraternity that has otherwise done much good” is completely irrelevant. And as a woman with wide hips and curves in Greek life, I am telling you that no man can define my worth by the damn number on my scale. Cornell University, we need to do better.

Jenna Zitomer is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Guest Room runs periodically. Comments can be sent to [email protected]