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Vera House Responds to Theta Tau Videos

So, That Happened. Again. Now What?

It goes something like this:

Member/s of insert name of team or organization have been suspended/are under investigation after insert form of communication (text, email, video) have surfaced containing insert problematic/dangerous behavior (e.g. racism, sexism, homophobia). The member/s of said team or organization have issued an apology saying they are “appalled and disgusted”. Insert name of college/university president has issued a statement saying, “_______ is aware of this incident, and we are currently engaged in an investigation to determine the facts. This institution does not condone this type of behavior and continues to provide resources and education designed to create a safe and supportive campus environment for all students.”

A response similar to the one above was released when the 'rapebait' email that a Georgia Tech fraternity sent out to rushes went viral. Same response when the racist chant by SAE members at the University of Michigan went viral. Same response to the 'Pig Roast' contest at Cornell. Same response from Syracuse University’s Theta Tau Fraternity

The initial apologies and statements released after incidents like this, read like my ‘out of office’ reply. Written without regard to content. It doesn’t matter who emails me, or why they are emailing me; they’ll get the same response because I am out of the office and unavailable. The apologies and statements released after incidents like Theta Tau’s often don’t feel genuine, because the people releasing them seem “unavailable”. The automatic apology is given without regard to content.

Theta Tau brothers said the video was taken out of context. The skit was a playful mocking of one brother’s conservative beliefs; you know, it’s what brothers do. Here are some, not all, of the problematic themes in their skit:

  • Racist, anti-semitic, and homophobic language is funny.
  • The normalization of intoxication and sexual violence, particularly against women and people with disabilities.
  • The normalization of sexual assault through homophobic hazing rites of passage.
  • Portraying other languages as gibberish.
  • Portraying the KKK as a fable, not as a white nationalist terrorist group founded on the hatred and genocide of people of non-white/ethno-European backgrounds, implying that they are not a real and current danger.
  • Animal abuse and bestiality are funny.
  • Using animal reproductive behavioral patterns as a metaphorical comparison to men’s sexual entitlement to women.
  • Physically damaging items/property is acceptable when you don’t get your desired sexual outcome.

We know that Syracuse University is working hard to respond to the incident itself, its aftermath and the raw, open wounds of marginalized students across campus.  While those with privilege may have been shocked by what the videos revealed, those without power and privilege were not shocked.  In response to this painful reality, we encourage the University to center survivors, marginalized groups and those at risk of the violence referenced in the video when deciding future actions on these issues.

It must be stated unequivocally that even with the best possible response, one university cannot take on and fix the ills of an entire society. We cannot create positive, sustainable culture change from a reactionary mindset.  Each and every one of us needs to acknowledge how widespread and accepted these beliefs are and how often there are not videotapes. We have to look deeply within ourselves about how we contribute to this culture that is breeding such hatred and contempt for so many members of our communities.

Will you begin that process for yourself?  If you are open, here are some ways to begin:

  • Let’s stop normalizing behavior and do something – don’t laugh at the offensive joke; don’t use racist, misogynistic or demeaning language and don’t make generalizations about a particular culture or ethnicity. 
  • If you engage in this behavior currently, by making jokes or laughing or remaining silent because you “don’t mean it that way” or you are “not really a racist/sexist/homophobe…”, are you willing and open to ask yourself why you give yourself permission to engage in this behavior when you know at its root this behavior is harmful and dangerous?
  • Acknowledge that if you genuinely have believed or participated in these actions to not distance yourself from accountability.  “I may be racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, etc…  Now that I hold myself responsible, what can I do to change?”
  • Check your privilege.  Know your power.
    • If you find yourself thinking that you are glad you can “just tune all of this out” sometimes, remember that marginalized groups don’t have that luxury.  They live in their skin and their identities, and the micro aggressions they experience daily are real.  If they can’t tune them out, we shouldn’t either.
    • Stop trying to rationalize and justify another way of understanding events that embody structural oppression.  Don’t look within the victim to make sense of the experience.  Look at the structures (that support or uphold racist, homophobic, ableist, sexist behaviors) and challenge them.
    • Be an ally.  Use your voice to challenge people who look like you, who respect you and who might listen to you. 

“We can disagree and still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”  - James Baldwin

Vera House, Inc. Campus Project Team
Tiffany Brec, Project Coordinator
Koy Adams, Violence Prevention Educator
Chris Kosakowski, Violence Prevention Educator