Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Behind Closed Doors

In a discussion with a group of friends yesterday, talk of the upcoming ‘Hoos at Hokies football game led to a guy mentioning the now famous Rolling Stone article about UVa, penned by Sabrina Rubin Erdely. As it turned out, I was the only guy in the group who had read the article, but that hardly stopped any of them from expressing disbelief about what they had heard. Although I had planned not to bring it up, I couldn't stay quiet on the topic.

One man laughed and said what others may have been thinking, "I don't need to read it."

After some discussion, it turned out much of their disbelief was based on simply not wanting to accept what they had heard. One guy surprised me by defending the fraternity system, itself, as a worthy part of the overall college experience.

Well, since I was a kid I've always thought the frat-house and sorority culture was weird. At 16, I couldn't grasp how it was cool to beg to be in a social group, to go through a groveling ordeal. Never did it, and I still can't understand why self-respecting people do. Likewise, for a good many years I’ve wondered why modern universities associate themselves with randy social clubs with Greek letters for names.

This morning I read a defense of the Greek scene in comments on Facebook. The defender cited his own membership in a fraternity in his college days, which he remembered fondly. He asserted that his frat brothers weren't rapists and I don't doubt him. 

However, defending the archaic world of college fraternities by saying the vast majority of fraternity members aren’t rapists doesn’t work for me. Not when that vast majority has apparently been helping to perpetuate a system designed to cover up serious crimes under the guise of tradition.

Hey, in the 1960s, I suppose most Ku Klux Klan members didn’t murder freedom riders. Most didn’t bomb churches to kill little girls. But like today’s party-hardy frats, the KKK of 50 years ago operated with the tacit blessing of the people in power. The KKK’s secrecy provided cover for a few people to commit terrible crimes. Expecting the Jim Crow era authorities to turn a blind eye on those crimes, that secret society's membership routinely did the same. Like today's frat boys, the members of the KKK didn’t denounce the sickos in their midst.

If we are to believe what we read in Rolling Stone, and elsewhere -- click here to read Dahlia Lithwick’s excellent analysis in SLATE -- it seems fraternity parties are providing opportunities for serial rapists to operate with cover, behind Rugby Road's closed doors. While most frat bros might cringe at the very thought of a gang rape, nonetheless, they seem to have been systematically averting their eyes from what they don't want to see. That’s a tradition that deserves no defense.

At the very least, sepia-toned memories should not stop folks who want to cast aspersions at the Rolling Stone article’s disturbing charges from taking the time to read it first.

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