BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Published February 25, 2013
Last week, the University’s chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, often called Pike, garnered worldwide headlines after photos were spread of its members posing semi-nude with American flags. The photos, part of a party invitation to a sorority, were accompanied by an e-mail stating that Pike “paddles pledges because it’s a comprehensive upper body workout.” After the media got a hold of the photos and letter, the Pike national chapter ordered a 15-day suspension of the fraternity. What Pike did was juvenile; however, this publicized incident is laughably tame compared to serious offenses that have surrounded Greek life and campuses at large, and is receiving undue attention.
Compared to other fraternity actions, Pike’s photo stunt was rather innocuous — perhaps nothing more than a future regret for the flag-draped members. Recently, Duke University's chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity hosted an Asian-theme party, leading to student protests against the so-called "racist rager." The fraternity was later suspended from campus, but according to Larry Moneta, the university’s vice president of student affairs, the suspension “had nothing to do with the Asian-theme party.” Such parties create uncomfortable campus environments for students — arguably more so than boys covered in American flags — and yet, universities and nationwide fraternity organizations have refused to openly punish fraternities for these tasteless transgressions.
Beyond offensive parties, the handling of these Greek life incidences have been a controversy in and of itself. While the Pike invitation received worldwide attention, inciting debates on everything from sexist language in the e-mail to questions of disrespecting the American flag, more threatening incidents haven't received nearly as much attention. In an Rolling Stone article, Dartmouth College's chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon was accused of extreme hazing practices including forcing pledges to eat vomeletes (vomit omelets), swim in kiddie pools of semen, urine and other bodily waste and of course, binge drinking. Later, the college's Undergraduate Judicial Affairs Committee dropped all 27 chargesheld against the fraternity. Though the body concluded that there was insufficient evidence to punish the fraternity, the hazing surrounding many fraternities makes it difficult for members to speak up against these horrific behaviors, with many either silencing themselves or, in the case of Andrew Lohse, a Dartmouth student interviewed by Rolling Stone, being ostracized by fellow fraternity brothers.
Unfortunately, many universities choose to deal with these grave issues not through internal problem solving, but by disassociating the fraternity from the campus community entirely. After reports of hazing surfaced in March 2011, the Interfraternity Council removed the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of its campus affiliation. Nevertheless, the fraternity is now able to recruit members each year and hold parties without University oversight that other fraternities and sororities have. The University’s disaffiliation doesn’t solve any of the problems that plagued the fraternity and instead allows these organizations even more freedom as they no longer have to answer to a university governing body.
By and large, these incidents receive the most punishment only when they cause enough attention, like in Pike's case, with many more serious infractions left unaddressed. There’s a lack of transparency associated with these transgressions that isn’t helped by the University’s tendency to push the more unpleasant incidents under the rug.