Last week in Student Senate, President Heather Kopec introduced a discussion on student autonomy. The author of this piece is still somewhat confused on the circumstances that prompted its introduction, but, ultimately, I’d simply like to give my two cents on the issue of student autonomy on this campus.
One does not need to be on campus that long to feel that the dynamic within the student body has shifted, and for the worse. This shift, in my view, is due to a growing schism between the Greek organizations and non-Greek students. This is, of course, a generalized statement, thus my deliberate choice to say “Greek organizations” rather than “Greek students.” It is the structure of the Greek organizations and, in some instances, their explicit choice to protect the organization’s standing rather than the student body as a whole that lends itself to the growth of this divide. This divide has existed since I have been on campus, but only since the recent incidents at the Beta Theta Pi and Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternities that it seems as if both sides of the fight are waiting for the other to make the first move for an all-out brawl. I would like to remind all students, Greek and non-Greek alike, that your allegiance is first to the rest of the campus and then to the organizations that you are part of.
Events have transpired in fraternities that could have and have happened elsewhere on campus and, unfortunately, will likely happen once again. The difference is that when these sorts of events happen elsewhere, the information pertaining to the incident is made available as that allows first for the issue to be resolved in a timely and accurate manner and second allows campus to rally behind the victims whether they choose to make themselves known or not. However, some, but not all, Greek organizations have taken the two aforementioned incidents and circled the wagons around their members, shielding the organizations, and in turn, further alienating the student body at large from them. The end result of this is that the student body as a whole cannot get accurate information with regard to the incidents, which only reaffirms the position that members of Greek organizations care first about their “brothers” and “sisters” and second about everyone else on this campus. It should not and cannot be this way if we hope to resolve the divide between the student body.
I have made several claims here, and making claims without solutions is neither helpful nor conducive to productive discussion. Thus, I offer the following suggestions: first, Greek organizations need to be more transparent with their handling of incidents that occur at their events or in their houses and place their allegiances to the student body first and their organizations second. I do not foresee Greek organizations leaving this campus any time soon, nor do I see that as an appropriate response. As a whole, Greek organizations do contribute positively to the campus, not to mention the myriad of alumni who would cease their donations to the college upon the disbanding of the Greek system. Second, non-Greek students should stop viewing members of the Greek organizations as being the organization and instead view them as their classmates. The organizations are only part of this campus because we, the students and faculty, allowed them to be here. The members of the organizations, however, are our peers regardless of their affiliation and should be treated as such. Finally, Greek organizations should disassociate themselves and discipline members who reflect negatively upon their organizational standards and their Knox Greek community standards. An action of one member can and will paint the entire organization in a negative light (despite my goal of everyone giving respect based upon the merits of one’s character, I have the feeling that this is not entirely likely to happen). Therefore, rather than protecting those members, the organizations should remove them from the organization, thereby showing that they do not condone behaviors that reflect negatively upon the Greek community.
We, as students, cannot allow petty differences, such as the organizations of which we are members, come between us. I deliver this message to both Greeks and non-Greeks alike as both are guilty of this division — simply look in the cafeteria on any given day and there is an imaginary line of primarily Greeks and primarily non-Greeks. Divisions such as these are the primary threat to student autonomy and they do not need to be.
This piece is not an attack on any party, but rather a plea for cooperation from the student body as a whole to resolve issues that hurt the entire campus. If we wish to see the campus united, then the artificial boundaries and lines that we create must be removed.