Focusing on the bigger problems

The elephant in the room

Andrew Breland

Around the U.S., newspapers are losing their ombudsmen. For those unaware, these roles are also known as “reader’s advocates” and “public editors,” and their jobs are to comment not on society or issues, but instead on the paper itself. Ombudsmen’s columns are channels through which both criticisms and praise of content are heard by editorial staff and readers, though the former is far more common. For today, and today only, I am taking on an ombudsman’s role.

When I was asked to continue writing for The Observer last fall, I was told that our columns need to be centrally about something in the Case Western Reserve community. This aim was to promulgate a greater sense of togetherness, and to emphasize the paper as a forum for all sorts of commentary on our university. In the meantime, this paper has focused on community building.

As opinion writers, there has been a concerted, if unplanned, emphasis on student achievement and how our experience can get better. Writers have provided advice to students, including calls to involvement, openness, community and eating a good breakfast. Through this effort, our opinion section has become a champion of trying to slay the demon that is college apathy and contentment. Instead, we push for a more active and interactive campus.

This goal fails though, when instead of community building and advice, students are presented with attacks on institutions and ad hominem polemics against students on our campus. Last week, in these pages, six undergraduates produced a guest column attacking Greek Life and the sorority rush process in particular.

First, before anything else gets said, the six of them should be commended for voicing an unpopular and divisive opinion. To say what they said publically takes gumption and a level of confidence that not many possess. For that, I am incredibly impressed. I, for one, will never fault anyone for voicing an opinion. As previous columns in this space suggest, it is my firm belief that the free interchange of ideas, no matter their popularity, makes this a better campus.

However, in opening yourself up with commentary, one must also be prepared for criticism. While I commend the six women for their bravery, their style and message attacks the very heart of this paper’s goal, and if not that, then at least my own.

In what can only be described as a broadside against sororities, the guest column chronicled the uncomfortable and awkward experiences these women have during recruitment.

They equated recruitment to a form of speed dating, which masks and represses one’s “quirks and unbridled essence.” They further suggest that sororities connote purchasing friends, and that the simple appearance of Greek letters emblazoned on someone’s chest demarcate a fuller person. They end the piece chastising a perceived sexism in the Greek system, and of course apologize for any tension they created.

I will not attack them on the veracity of their arguments. Admittedly, I am not a member of the Greek community and even less so of the sororities here at CWRU. However, I will briefly comment that the reaction from every sorority member I have spoken with about the article is a virulent reprisal against the arguments in the column.

Instead, I wanted to challenge the girls’ notion of community.

For the longest time, this section has focused on attacking university procedures and systems which prevent community growth. Likewise, we advise students based on personal experience, using the strategies we have come to accept as useful. What is questionable then, is the opposite. Attacking a system which hundreds love, because of perceived slights on your own part.

Greek Life needs no more detractors. Rumors spread around campus about financial irregularities, intra-organization politicking and the drunken displays that take place in basements on Friday nights. However, these rumors are just that—unsubstantiated rumors. They still have carrying power, which presents an issue. Additional complaints about the system are unnecessary at best.

But the attack on community that was presented here last week struck at the very core of campus. Though the requisite drama and infighting occurs within chapters, the truest and most espoused picture of Greek life is happy brotherhoods and sisterhoods in which relationships are established and last for years. The vast majority of those involved would agree that Greek life presents one of the few real communities on this campus. It is for that reason that not getting involved in Greek life is my biggest regret as an undergraduate.

Their criticisms then, while taken for their worth, should also be seen through that lens. While the optimal system may be far off, Greek life presents a real opportunity to create a long-lasting bond. So instead of attacking one of the only successful organizations on this campus, more effort should be focused on the things that do not work. Why are commuter students forgotten? Why do university services (the library, dining halls and residence life) leave so many disappointed and neglected? Why doesn’t SAGES work?

These bigger questions demand our attention more than the complaints of six who perceive injustice in a system that everyone else adores.

Andrew Breland is a double major in political science and English, Vice President of the Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraternity and former Chair of the Case Western Reserve Constitution Day Committee.