As two recent graduates from Knox College and members of Tau Kappa Epsilon, we were deeply concerned by both the accusations against TKE and the response of current TKE leadership published in this week’s TKS.
There are two major points which we take particular issue with: the implications of racialized hazing and of demeaning misogyny. First, the “ramp rule,” as it is known, requires new members during their educational process to take the ramp of the back deck and enter the house through the back entrance. This is meant to symbolize their status as beginning the journey into the household of brotherhood. In much the same way as at Brown University entering first-years come through the main gate of the university grounds on their first day and are not allowed to go back out of that gate until after they have graduated, the back door symbolizes a process not yet completed. Upon becoming a full member, our new initiates can enter any door into the house they like, symbolizing their full membership. To imply that this tradition has any basis in Jim Crow segregation or gender discrimination is heinous. There has never, ever, been a racial connotation to the exclusive use of the back door, and there has never been an unequal enforcement based on race, class, sexual orientation, religious denomination, etc. Furthermore, during this process, women are welcome to enter the house through any door, and have never (to our knowledge) been asked to enter exclusively through one door. That this practice heralds from “pre-civil rights policies” is simply not true, not only for the reasons stated above, but also because the ramp was not built until the 1990’s.
Second, is the issue of objectifying and ridiculing, not one, but two women in association with the “pledge process.” We cannot offer excuses for this behavior, it was indeed egregiously wrong, and for our participation in an organization in which some members participated, these two alumni whole-heartedly apologize. Let it be said, however, that issue was taken regarding these incidents by members of the fraternity at the time. While dissent was expressed internally, rather than externally, it should be noted that some members did have major problems with this behavior. As such, a dialogue was opened up within the house regarding the issue, and from this emerged meaningful discourse over our men’s actions and our treatment of women. This is in no way meant as an excuse, for by association, we are all implicated in the events. Rather, it is meant to demonstrate that in an organization made up of diverse viewpoints and backgrounds, disagreements are bound to produce discourse: in other words, we do not all fall into a “herd mentality.”
As alumni members, we are not writing this letter as a means of vindicating ourselves of the issues, nor are we doing so to try and clear up a longstanding image problem of the house. Instead, we are writing this to illuminate the complexity of the issue, and the many sides (and viewpoints) which are involved, that recently have been lumped into a singular interpretation. We are also publicly urging the current members of the house to not make past mistakes again, and asking that they engage in a critical analysis of their behavior and how to move forward in a progressive way. We are not denying a “guilty by association” view of our fraternity, however, we would like to remind the student body, faculty, staff, and alumni, that as individuals we hold very different view points that cannot easily be expressed in a singular fashion.
Chris Guthrie, ’08 and Sam Gagnard, ’08