Back in 2006, Sasha Baron Cohen starred in the mockumentary Borat. The film details the misadventures of Borat Sagdiyev, a supposed news reporter from Kazakhstan who has been sent to the United States to learn about its culture. Through Borat, Cohen imposes a caricatured set of homophobic, anti-Semitic and misogynistic beliefs on the American people. The brilliance of the movie lies in the way Borat’s views are used to reflect the equally warped views on sexuality, race and gender some of our countrymen hold. The audience leaves laughing, impersonating Borat for at least a week, and slightly appalled at how backwards modern culture can be.
Over the past few weeks, a series of Maroon-News articles and the commentaries that followed have revealed a Colgate culture tense with feelings of hate and exclusion and not dissimilar to the one satirized in Borat. Unsurprisingly, the same biases we laughed at on the big screen have stopped being funny now that they have surfaced as our own. The dialogue has recently come to a stalemate on Greek organizations and their arguably toxic effect on the campus social climate.
The anti-Greek sentiments that have emerged on this campus are evidence that we are in need of a long, open dialogue evaluating the health of Colgate’s Greek organizations. However, the conversations we have been having are unproductive and ignoring why this debate began in the first place. Speaking as a member of a Greek organization, we are aware that there are many, many things wrong with our system. We would love your input in pursuing reform so that more members of this campus can benefit from our presence, but let’s first confront these feelings of hate and exclusion before we figure out how to improve the Greek system.
Borat is funny because it makes the biases it confronts look ridiculous. Cohen exposes the prejudices in this country we do not like to acknowledge and he makes us laugh at them. If there is one thing that we can learn from Borat and this pointless back-and-forth, it is that prejudice in any form is stupid. Let’s take a step back and realize that what began as a well-meaning dialogue has degraded into both sides accusing the other of being biased. Combating hate with hate is not going to make Colgate a loving campus, so let’s put up our white flags and relax.
Take another look at the racial and financial profiles of the Greek organizations – they are not radically different than the racial and financial profiles of the rest of this campus. To reduce all the members of Greek Life into a bunch of rich white snobs that get drunk and have sex all the time is not fundamentally different than the prejudice Greek Life is being accused of poisoning this campus with. I will be the first to admit that there are racist, homophobic and misogynistic individuals among us, but there are racists, homophobes and misogynists all over this campus. The difference is that when a first-year in West snarls an offensive slur to a person of color, the entirety of West Hall is not labeled as racist. In light of our self-selective nature, we should be held accountable to the actions of our individual members, but we should not be accused of all holding the skewed beliefs a select handful of individuals hold. If the majority of us are from white, privileged backgrounds – like the rest of campus – it does not mean that we agree with the prejudiced sentiments of a minority of our members. It means we do not know how to educate them by ourselves.
We are a reflection of a problem, not the cause of it. Let us imagine the Greek system as a boulder along the metaphorical path to social reform at Colgate. One traveling this path may attempt to push it aside single-handedly or recruit the help of the people responsible for the impediment in first place. If you are trying to create a more cooperative, respecting and unified campus, then let us work with you.
We could be your greatest allies if you would let us fight beside you rather than against you. Even if we are part of the problem, it does not mean that we cannot be part of a solution.
Contact Andrew Wylie at [email protected]