At the moment, Cornell University has its hands full. So does a man who was allegedly beaten and called a racist slur by one of Cornell’s students. That man and an entire institution must recover now (in different ways), and it won’t be easy for either. There’s also a question of due process for the student who is accused of beating that man.
I’d better admit I have a bias, and it’s unfair. The only Cornell graduate I’ve ever known was an absolute horse’s ass, God rest his soul. He was a spoiled rich kid, and obviously didn’t use privilege to a proper advantage. I have no idea how many other Ivy League students fit the same description. We may overstate the spoiled rich kid problem because the spoiled rich kids we meet make bigger impressions than they should.
Note the words “proper advantage” in the second paragraph. A young person with a healthy value system is capable of good things when the right education is within reach. Someone with an unhealthy value system will squander everything and demand more.
Some fraternities — and some sororities — have issues. Their members are young people living away from their parents for the first time, and they’re in youth-controlled communities.
Here’s something else I’d better disclose: I have next to no experience with so-called higher education. I completed one community college creative writing class, and that’s it. The class was held in a senior center, and most of my classmates were mature writers. That was my college “peer influence,” and I’m grateful.
When we hear about a disaster involving someone’s apparent sense of entitlement, we may have to resign ourselves to the possibility that nothing will be done. A school administration might react harshly to some students who have done the unspeakable, and make the effort to deal compassionately with the aftermath. However, if a student or the student’s family has the right clout then that kid is almost assured a free pass. This applies in any school, and it may or may not have anything to do with money.
I have horrifying memories of classmates in public and private schools. The worst of them ran wild because they or their families had power. The source of the clout wasn’t always the same, and some of those kids came from relatively poor families. The students who were eaten alive knew that if the first complaint of an assault was dismissed it meant the problem would be allowed to escalate. Anyone who was vulnerable — including me — went through hell, with no end in sight until we were ready to quit school.
Some of us got more abuse when we entered the misnamed Real World. Again, it wasn’t always clear why so-and-so could get away with detestable behavior.
A link to a New York Times article appears at the end of this post. We must never assume these crises are limited to institutions we hear about. They can happen anywhere, and the answers aren’t always there. We don’t always know the details, either.
Be grateful when a situation is handled right, and accept that unresolved nightmares are part of a permanent vicious cycle. I know that isn’t easy to think about when you’re being eaten alive, or when you have enough concern for others that you feel like putting your fist through the wall on someone else’s behalf. Been there, done that. If you think it will help, keep making noise when there’s a problem. Just don’t be too optimistic about getting results.
I don’t know the current policy, but when Abbie Hoffman attended Brandeis University that school didn’t allow fraternities. Mr. Hoffman wrote about it in his memoir, Soon to be a Major Motion Picture. He said the policy didn’t stop his classmates from forming cliques and engaging in off-color humor which ignored boundaries. He described being pulled into a tasteless initiation ritual when he hadn’t shown any interest in the clique. I read the book a long time ago, and don’t recall if he wrote anything about his unwanted associates doing anything equally bad off-campus. He didn’t report the initiation thing, so it’s unlikely the Brandeis administration knew anything about it.
Please take a look at Abbie Hoffman’s memoir before deciding that banning fraternities is an answer. Fraternity-influenced abuses will still exist, but they’ll be less visible.