Diversity 2011

Jesse Listernick

I can empathize with people who feel embittered by Colgate’s Greek system. Criticisms that it can undermine diversity, break up friendships and diminish individuality are valid. Though skepti­cism is always good, placing blame on an institution is wasted energy. Just as current disgust with American politics is not going to lead to reform, neither is anger over frats and sororities. Greek Life is here to stay, but this is not to say that all reform efforts are futile. Any attempt has to proceed not from passion but objectivity, and work to improve, not abolish.

The Greek system is not some menacing beast. It does not have a life of its own; it does not have a particular agenda; it does not by itself discriminate. That is an individual’s prerogative, which we tend to forget. Fervent attacks solely on the entirety are, therefore, misplaced. But what can Colgate do to address individual acts of bigotry? Punitive measures, while effective deterrents, do not change people’s attitudes. Colgate might do well to consider revising its vision statement, which would no doubt affect how students view these issues.

Presently, it reads:

“While we celebrate our diversity, we function as one institution. Although we work together for the success of the University, we also recognize that our differences enrich the experiences of all of us. Groups that lead a separate existence do not support the whole, and those who forsake their culture impoverish all, depriving us of the richness of America’s cultural background. We celebrate that difficult balance between the commonalties of human experience and the particularities of our individual lives.”

This vision seems curiously at odds with American ideals. To be American is to embrace in­dividuality, regardless of its implications for the collective. Asking students to maintain a balance between their own convictions and an overarching Colgate identity, whatever that may be, limits opportunities for individual expression. Should this be desirable? To be fair to Colgate, its goal is to create a depoliticized space conducive to pure intellectual discussion: “Colgate’s mission is to pro­vide a demanding and expansive educational experience to a select group of diverse, talented, intel­lectually sophisticated students.” The net effect leads to an apathetic student body where diversity, a political issue, gets overlooked. No wonder organizations like ALANA and the Sap are located on the fringes of campus, rendering them largely irrelevant to the majority. One only has to look at the University of Michigan’s mission statement to find a quite different take on campus life:

“We celebrate and promote diversity in all its forms, seeking the understanding and perspective that distinct life experiences bring. We proclaim ourselves a scholarly community in which ideas may be freely expressed and challenged, and all people are welcomed, respected and nurtured in their academic and social development.”

Michigan seeks diversity as an end goal. Colgate, however, envisions diversity as a means for achieving an academically inclined student body. Means are inconsequential if the desired end is reached, and Colgate, in my experience, has been largely successful at providing intellectual rigor.

So what does all this mean for reforming frats and sororities? Should Colgate politicize its ideol­ogy? If it does, a new vision would trickle down into student attitudes, and the Greek system would reflect that; diversity would become relevant. But Colgate would need to sacrifice its identity as a space for objective academics. Quite the dilemma.

Contact Jesse Listernick at [email protected]