Monday, April 22, 2013

Why Do We Always Blame the Sororities?


Why Do We Always Blame the Sororities?
Examining the Kappa Delta “Homeless Party” Incident 
& Societal Reactions Through a Feminist Lens


Jezebel article and photographs

Terrible IU Tweet...more on this below!

Jezebel, a Gawker Media website that identifies itself as a blog for “gossip, culture, fashion, and sex for the contemporary woman” ran the story “Indiana Sorority Girls Attend Totally Cute Homeless-Themed Party” regarding Indiana University Kappa Delta sorority members dressing up like homeless people wearing offensive sign-age, including “Why lie? It's for BOOZE. Homeless need $ and prayers." "Will Twerk…" and "Give me a nickel and I'll tickle your pickle."

Since the story ran, media attention and organizational scrutiny has been placed upon the IU Kappa Delta students. As it should, quite honestly. Their actions were insensitive, lacking in awareness, and childish. I mean, hey, if you want to wear flannel dirty clothing, host a Grunge Themed party and tease your hair like Courtney Love! Don’t play down your privilege & mock a population of marginalized persons.

But here’s the thing: The media coverage and community discussions regarding the incident make it clear that we live in a patriarchal society.

“Patriarchal society?!” you say. “But that has nothing to do with some stupid sorority decision! Crazy feminist!!! ” 
Rabble! Rabble! Rabble!


Sigh. If that’s what you think, I’m about to drop some knowledge on you. If you’re already down and just interested in the perspective of a feminist student affairs graduate student who previously worked in social services and want to learn more about this issue, you might find this interesting.


#1: The party was hosted by a FRATERNITY. Yo Media! Why is this not being mentioned?
As reported by the IDS, Kappa Delta (ΚΔ) sorority was paired with Sigma Pi (ΣΠ) fraternity this week – it is a policy within the Panhellenic Council & Interfraternity Council to pair up their fraternities and sororities during Little 500 weekend in order to increase accountability, safety, and build community. We can see in the pictures posted in the Jezebel article that there is clearly a sigma sign (Σ) and a partial letter that resembles Pi (Π). This information leads me to infer that this party had members of Sigma Pi present and may have even been hosted at their house.

The original photo posted on Jezebel with the Sigma Pi logo pasted underneath it. Look similar?

I’m not trying to vilify Sigma Pi here. But I am asking that the media and community place as much responsibility on the fraternity.

You see, we have a problem within the university community, both at IU and nationwide, with terrible party themes. For this party, the “themes are often selected through collaboration between the sorority and fraternity, it’s not clear who actually chose the theme” (Smith, 2013, para. 7).

And yet most media outlets are running with the story that focuses on the sorority. Jezebel’s Katie J.M. Baker started the avalanche when she chose to only focus on the sorority. Granted, she was working through a tipster, but c’mon…the Greek letters in the photo are NOT Kappa Delta (ΚΔ). Even if her tipster didn’t provide that information, it should have been noticed that there's another part to the story, like, ummmm, who hosted it.

But it wasn’t noticed. And it got worse from there, like a twisted game of Telephone.

Numerous other outlets posted that it was Kappa Delta that hosted the sorority (not “attended” like the original Jezebel post), or even if they didn’t cite ownership, they only focused on the sorority women in their article.


OMG, MEDIA. NO ONE EVER SAID THE SORORITY HOSTED THE EVENT. CONFIRM BEFORE YOU POST. .............ps: dear media, you are terrible.


So why don’t we only focus on the women? Sure, the photographs were only of women – but let’s wonder why the photographer even only took photos of women. Women are hypersexualized, especially sorority women thanks to the endless themes of ‘slutty sorority girls’ (thanks pop culture – for more on this topic read the academic article “Don’t Be aWhore, That’s Not Ladylike”). Photos of attractive young women dressed in disparaging themes? Sold! Amirite??!!

In the patriarchial society of the United States, where men hold the dominant roles and influence how the systematic discrimination of women, this is what media coverage on a Greek-affiliated ‘homeless party’ looks like.

Women should be docile, chaste, and nurturing members of society. Therefore, to have photographs displaying insensitive activity (what?!?! But women are supposed to be the caregivers!) and attractive feminine forms that are writing sexual innuendos on cardboard (“tickle your pickle”), all of a sudden society feels even better about scorning these perpetrators of insensitivity.

This situation too eerily reminds me of how sexual assaults and rapes are treated on college campuses and throughout society. Sure, it’s not date rape, it’s “she led him on”. Or, let’s aww’ over the sadness of a key male athletic player being ‘kicked’ off a school team and then blame the ‘slutty’ girl he raped (Steubenville, anyone?).

That’s patriarchy. When we pick and choose who we hold accountable...and if you’re familiar with the U.S. Greek Sorority & Fraternity system you may even know of some experiences where the women are held to higher standards than men, and fraternities can often escape unscathed.

At least one person on Twitter seemed to get it:
 
Preach, sister.

Don’t Believe Me? Let’s See What Society is Saying.

To start us off, let’s take a look at a tweet from IU Student Legal Services, a campus law office funded by IU Student Fees:
My student activity fees pay for this crap?


….Really, SLS? A legal entity inciting sexual harassment? There are those who would consider this a funny way to mock the ladies of Kappa Delta. I, and many others would disagree. 
Looks like SLS needs a visit from Sexual Harassment Panda


This tweet uses the sexuality of the women involved as a means to mock them. It furthers the idea that the women involved are not human beings, but sexual objects that not only can be mocked, but deserve to be mocked. Stating “might be tougher than bar heels” immediately pulls together the idea that these sorority women are ‘drunk sluts’. Feminist critique acknowledges that high heels are a symbol of the hypersexualization of women; the sexual object, the ‘Whore’ figure of the Madonna-Whore complex. Adding the word ‘bar’ conjures up the image drunkenness, partying, and – thanks to patriarchy, pop culture, and many other aspects of society – the immediate conceptualization that these women are nothing better than ‘drunk sluts’ and thus it is open season on them. Yes, this phrase is never used in the tweet...but it doesn't need to be. We live in a society where coded language tells us the real story (Swim, Mallett, & Stangor, 2004)

(again, let’s forget that a fraternity was involved. Thanks again, Jezebel, for neglecting all the facts!) <--sarcasm.
Think Student Legal Services was offensive? Think I'm wrong? Click on the poll, found at the top of the sidebar on this blog

The comments from your average person are much worse. As expected, when a woman messes up, it becomes directly linked to her sexuality.


Interesting: There was a search result for a "Duane Sobecki" in Indianapolis on LinkedIn, but unsure if it is the same guy. I have not heard back from him yet to confirm or deny.

Fortunately, regardless of the lazy journalists, ill-informated, insensitive students, and other negative aspects of this issue, I have not lost faith. Why? Because Patton Oswalt said it best: "The good outnumber you, and we always will." For every mistake made, there is a student ready to make amends and learn from the process. For every mistake made, there are good people in university offices who will try to make the situation better. 

We're human and we're imperfect, but we never stop growing.


My  recommendations:
  • Media: Try learning journalism. You know, talking to people and reviewing photographs, undergoing critical thinking, asking smart questions, and trying to remember your privilege and biases. Remember that it takes two to tango – if the sorority was in “attendance” at a party, maybe you should consider asking who hosted it.
  • Sigma Pi Fraternity: If the IDS is correct, then your organization hosted or at least helped to host the party. Own up to it. Don’t leave the Kappa Delta sisters to deal with the mess you helped create. Instead of not offering a comment to the IDS, remember your values of “Develop character and leadership" and "Advance heightened moral awareness”.
  • Sexist People on Twitter: Go educate yourself on the concept of “Slut Shaming” and Sexism and stop being disgusting. Ain't nobody got time for you.
  • And finally, Kappa Delta…you made a mistake, but you’re owning up to it & plan to implement more education and service on the topic of homelessness. Mistakes happen, especially during college. I (and many others) appreciate that you’re working to fix this wrong and examine your privileges. I hope your organization serves as a force within the IU Greek Community to stop using racist and other discriminatory party themes as excuses to dress up. I know you can do it, that the entire Greek community can do so.
Questions? Comments? 
Write something in the comment section below or hit me up on Twitter. Let me know if you think this essay is way off base or just another example of sexism in Greek Life, higher education, the media, and society in general.

Personal Statement: For what it is worth, I am unaffiliated. I have many friends in the Greek system and recognize that it is a source of both positive and negative energy.

Broadening the Scope: Do you care about the situation in Bloomington for homeless residents? The Bloomington area currently faces a shortage of adequate shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness. As of April 15th, 2013, the community is without a low-barrier shelter option for the first time in 3 years. A group of social workers and community members are trying to solve this issue. Please contact their organization, Ubunto Shelter, to volunteer and give.


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References

News Articles Mentioned: (ain’t nobody got time for all that APA citation!)

Organizations Mentioned:








Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Reflections on the Boston Marathon: Will you react like Carlos Arredondo?



Boston.

I visited some friends who worked in student affairs in 2010. It was one segment of my 10-city backpacking tour and I was ecstatic to be in a city that I had read so much about. After all, as a history nerd, I revered Boston.

Some BGSU grads/SA friends & I enjoy Little Italy in one of the best cities in the world!

As I prepared for my month-long tour I remember how so many of my friends scoffed when I mentioned Boston. “Great city,” they said, “not so great people”, referring to the stereotype that Bostonians (like many East Coast stereotypes) are rude and jerks.

They were wrong.

This Midwest gal from the “Heartland of America” knows hospitality and Boston had it in droves. Since I mostly traveled alone, I got quite a bit of interaction with some of the folks that lived there – and each of them were incredibly kind. They chatted with me, gave me directions, shared stories…there were anything but a stereotype.

So as the news reports began to fly across my Facebook & Twitter feeds that bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, I couldn’t help but think of those wonderful, amazing people over there and the horror that they were living in at that moment. Deaths, injuries…I feel sick thinking about it.

And then I read The New York Times news article about Jeff Bauman, a young man who was waiting at the finish line to cheer on his girlfriend. Jeff was severely injured and underwent dual amputations of his legs. His ashen face, grim with pain, is an image that will stay with you long after you look away.

But there’s something else to the story. A man in a cowboy hat.

Charles Krupa/Associated Press, from the New York Times article "In Grisly Image, a Father Sees His Son"
The man in the cowboy hat, Carlos Arredondo, 52, had been handing out American flags to runners when the first explosion went off. His son Alexander was a Marine killed in Iraq in 2004, and in the years since he has handed out the flags as a tribute. 

With the first blast, Mr. Arredondo jumped over the fence and ran toward the people lying on the ground. What happened next, he later recounted to a reporter: He found a young man, a spectator, whose shirt was on fire. He beat out the flames with his hands. The young man, who turned out to be Jeff Bauman, had lost the lower portion of both legs. He took off a shirt and tied it around the stump of one leg. He stayed with Mr. Bauman, comforting him, until emergency workers came to help carry him to an ambulance. (Rohan, April 16, 2013, para 16-17)

Just reflect on that for a moment.
.

.

.

.
A bomb goes off. At least, you think it's a bomb. There was an explosion and fire and a great booming noise that leaves your ears ringing. You don’t know what happened or if there are more, but you see people fall to the ground. You may not even register that you are in lethal danger at the moment, or maybe you don’t even care. You barely take notice of your feet brushing over the pavement as you rush towards the fallen bodies. 

You see a man on fire, his shirt alight. You beat it out with your bare hands; adrenaline courses through you now and you barely notice the pain of the flames. 

The flames are out. You realize in horror that this man has lost the lower portion of both of his legs. There’s blood everywhere. 

Everywhere. 

Sound travels through your ears with difficulty as your body is still reeling from the shock of the bomb’s booming noise several minutes ago, but you think you hear screams and soft, pained sounds. Yet you react quickly and with purpose. You tug off your shirt and tie it around the stump of one leg. The blood, you think, I have to stop the blood. He can’t bleed out. You begin to see the emergency responders; you know they are coming soon. 

The man next to you is in pain. You stay with him. You comfort him. Your heart is pounding in your chest but you stay with him.

You engage in one of the most raw experiences that human beings can experience, standing at the scene of death and chaos.

And you just saved a life.

.

.

.

.


The Student Affairs Application
The problem with the 24-hour news networks and social media is that society becomes saturated with facts and events. It is terribly easy to discount what goes on in the world. It’s terribly easy to frown and say “That’s awful” and move on without truly processing what happened.

But we do our fellow brothers and sisters a discredit when we do so – and ourselves.

Reflection is a key component of student affairs, but it is also a key component of life. In this example, I think it is imperative that we consider the events of the Boston Marathon and the first responders, whether they are a professional or just a Good Samaritan. Because, in all honesty, we will never know if it will happen to us. It may. Tragedy appears as an intangible specter, a thing that interrupts the lives of ‘other people’ but never us.

But it may.

And if it does, are you ready?

As the United States sees an increase in acts of violence on college campuses, those of us in student affairs must ask ourselves these difficult questions. What would you do? How would you respond?

We bury our heads in the sand too often. No different from other people, we do not want to think of unpleasant things. But we should. We need to.We must be prepared for crisis.

Yet research tells us that higher education and student affairs professional are often not prepared to deal with crisis ( Hemphill, & LaBanc, 2012). Experience tells me this is true. Last month our cohort met for class at IUPUI the day they experienced "a man with a long gun on campus" - multiple witnesses but no encounters, thankfully. That day we learned that we had no idea what to do regarding procedures and policies. None. That was later remedied thanks to a visit from IU Emergency Management, but still...We are lucky that the day became just a learning experience for us and nothing more.

Saving lives is not just about courage, but also planning and preparation. Quite honestly, crisis intervention can be performed by anyone, even those who may find themselves fearful in a crisis, as long as there is the proper training. When crisis strikes, your mind can revert back to the knowledge it possesses and allow you handle the situation effectively.


So I ask you: 

What can you do to prepare for crisis?
What will you do when/if tragedy strikes?
Will you react like Carlos Arredondo?

...Will you save a life?


Thinking of you all. Best wishes and prayers.


References:
 Hemphill, B. O., & LaBanc, B. H. (Eds.). (2012). Enough is enough: A student affairs perspective on preparedness and response to a campus shooting. Stylus Publishing, LLC..

Rohan, T. (April 16, 2013). In grisly images, a father sees his son. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/17/us/in-grisly-image-a-father-sees-his-son.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimes&_r=0

WishTV. (March 19, 2013). IUPUI gives campus all clear. Retrieved from http://www.wishtv.com/dpp/news/local/marion_county/man-with-gun-seen-on-iupui-campus

Want to learn more about crisis management? IU has a nice website exploring what to do with an active shooter with an accompanying video that is great. It's a good start to engaging on this topic. Also, ask your fellow cohort members, faculty, and staff on how they believe crisis management should occur!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thoughts on Student Activism, Student Affairs, & IU on Strike



“I wish they looked less at our tactics and more at the ideas behind them.”

(Student member of IU on Strike, personal communication, 2013)

From IU on Strike's tumblr page: http://iuonstrike.tumblr.com/post/47678403790/more-photos-from-banner-making-today#notes

Yesterday afternoon at the Indiana Memorial Union I met with one of the organizers of IU on Strike, a movement that grew out of Occupy IU and today is going “on strike” on Indiana University’s campus (Fater &Stefanski, 2013). You can find out more from them via their Twitter and Tumblr pages.

Student activism is an interesting topic within my chosen field of student affairs & higher education. There are those who lament the apathy of current college students. There are those who quietly scorn them, already disenchanted themselves on the efforts of a few to make effective change.



And then there are those like me, who embrace the Student Personnel Point of View (1949) perspective that believes one of the goals of higher education is “Education for a fuller realization of democracy in every phase of living” (p.2).



I’ve been observing the IU on Strike movement this year because of my own past experiences with student activism at Bowling Green State University and my work experience as a community organization with BUILD in Lexington, KY. To me, there is nothing more important than students becoming engaged in their community and working towards social justice and democracy.



I admit my experience with activism is much different than the IU on Strike students. As a student representative through the Undergraduate Student Government I worked with the system to make change – and then, when the system did not yield during a few situations, I worked outside of it, such as the time a group of good people and I fundraised nearly $7,000 to pay the salary of a victim advocate position in the BGSU Women’s Center. Over the years there was success, there was failure, and there were some things I wish I had done differently. Yet thanks to those experiences I am an engaged citizen, just like the SPPV (1949) desired :)



But regardless of my different experiences compared to IU on Strike, I want to understand. Because with a growing sense of horror (in a way), I realize that I am the Man. I work for the university. I work for the establishment. There are those who would not recognize me as a peer today that once may have.



My role is shifting.



And as it does, I cannot help but wonder about student activism and administrative responses. This is why I am working on a paper to explore the history of student activism and meeting with students from IU on Strike. I want to understand.



Student Affairs personnel need to come to an understanding as well regarding the needs and desires of our students in relation to their passions and activism.  We need contemplate our role within the system and with our students.



“For me, the strike is a lot more about calling attention to these demands and letting the administration know we’re not OK with this...than a dialogue with the administration about how exactly they should go about doing these things,” IU on Strike representative Kelly Thomas said.”




Some food for thought:

  1.  Student activists like IU on Strike state that their goal is to draw attention to the issues but not engage the administration because they do not trust the university administration or the police. Why is there a lack of distrust? How can we overcome that barrier and reach a mutual understanding? How can we work together? Is this possible?
  2. How do we support our students when they become engaged in activism?
  3.   How to we approach and engage student activists, especially when we are in upper administration?
  4.  As Xenia Markowitt asked, Is It My Job to Teach the Revolution?” (2009). And what does that look like? How do we teach students how to advocate for themselves and issues that matter to them?
  5.  Eric Stoller once commented on how there are not enough radical practitioners in student affairs. Is this true? And what role does this play into the conversation? (Stoller, 2012)



References

IU on Strike. Twitter. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/@iuonstrike


IU on Strike Tumblr. Retrieved from http://iuonstrike.tumblr.com/


Student Personnel Point of View (1949) Retrieved from http://www.naspa.org/pubs/files/StudAff_1949.pdf


Lare, J.C. (October 16, 2009). Is it my job to teach the revolution? Jenny c. lares. Retrieved from http://jennylares.com/?p=780 -- NOTE: If you do not have access to Markowitt's article on The Chronicle, you can read it for free via this blog.
Markowitt, X. (October 11, 2009). Is it my job to teach the revolution? The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Is-It-My-Job-to-Teach-the-R/48725/


Stoller, E. (January 16, 2012). Where are all the radical practicioners? Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/where-are-radical-practitioners


Fater T. & Stefanski M. (April 10, 2013). IU on Strike outlines demands. IDS. Retrieved from http://www.idsnews.com/news/story.aspx?id=92261