Several weeks ago, in an Intro to Informatics lecture that featured a lesson on privacy, University Professor Cliff Lampe — as he admits — made a mistake. Unrelated to the pertinent content of the course, he asserted that if in the hypothetical event that he were to contract herpes, it would be his own fault for having slept with a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority.

Yik Yak, among other social media outlets, quickly disseminated his flawed judgment. Students wrote, “Prof. Lampe foot in mouth with that tri delt joke,” “I feel bad for the one tridelt everyone pointed at in SI110 after Lampe went off, the truth hit her like a brick hitting a window” and “Lampe takes down tridelts.” They also misquoted Lampe, posting, “‘you won’t get herpes unless you sleep with a tridelt’ –si110 professor OMFG. BRB dying.”

In the wake of his blunder, I can attest that Lampe has reacted quite professionally. He has since delivered sincere apologies to both the member of Tri Delta taking his course, and to the Delta Delta Delta organization as a whole. He addressed his “mea culpa” to the class in the subsequent lecture and again via e-mail, writing, “One thing about walking the line with humor is that sometimes you trip on that line and fall on your face. I made a joke in class today about a Greek organization that was unprofessional, unfair, and cheap” — not to mention wildly misled, unwarranted and incorrect.

While I commend Lampe for admitting his faults, the sheer fact that a comment such as his was made during a University of Michigan lecture, and consequently endured and accepted by well over the majority of this woman’s classmates, is concerning.

As they sat in lecture, over a hundred students tolerated a professor — a professor twice the age of the women he insulted — to derogatorily sexualize an entire student organization. Those students tolerated an innuendo that assumes that the members of this student organization are so grossly promiscuous (and sexually irresponsible) that their contraction of sexually transmitted diseases is inevitable or without question. Not only did they tolerate this assertion, most found it to be humorous. At a university with such a high collective intelligence, why was this lecture hall not chillingly silent in disdain for such a presumptuous, hurtful and misogynist attack on members of their own student body?

Regrettably, it’s my assumption that the stigmatized nature of the University’s Greek Life, and Greek systems as a whole, bears some responsibility. One anonymous Yik Yak user claimed that, “the truth hit her like a brick hitting a window” — asserting that although Professor Lampe’s comment may have been out of line, it was nonetheless true. While Professor Lampe has expressed his regrets, the issue remains that he wrongly perpetuated unconscionable stereotypes and set a substandard example for more than a hundred impressionable first- and second-year students who may be unable to see past the concessions made in hindsight. These stereotypes are so societally engrained — and not only on this campus — that such an offensive comment can simply slip from the mouth of a longstanding professor at a highly ranked university, and taking cheap shots at women who are themselves wrongly perceived to be cheap has become a widely accepted societal practice.

I question how would that lecture hall have reacted if Lampe had made a similar comment attacking a religious organization or a specific ethnic group — instead of collegiate women? Moreover, I would argue that a situation in which similar assumptions were made concerning a group of men is nearly unimaginable. Undoubtedly, students hold preconceived ideas on the topic of what is considered promiscuity — based on Greek affiliation, breast measurement or an affinity for applying eye makeup — so is this comment excusable simply because people believe those crude generalizations to be true?

Both Lampe’s comment and the classroom’s reaction are an illustration of the classical ignorance, as well as the disturbing effect, of the collective mind. Throughout this flamboyantly prideful liberal arts campus, male and female students alike are quick to attest to being a “feminist.” Were none present in Lampe’s class that afternoon?

Let us not belittle the term feminist, or attempt to wear the title unwarrantedly — and feminism aside, there is such a thing as decency. Brash assumptions concerning any student organization or classification of peoples on this campus should not be tolerated, and the degradation of women should never be mistaken for humor.

Lauren McCarthy can be reached at laurmc@umich.edu.

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