Inflammatory AEPi e-mails leaked to BuzzFeed this week added fuel to the long-running debate at this school between protecting free speech and fostering a safe space for students. While the University cannot, and should not, limit students’ First Amendment rights, it can control environments that encourage hateful rhetoric and predatory behavior.
The fact that AEPi is a Jewish fraternity does not give its brothers, who may consider themselves a minority on this campus, license to speak or act in racist and sexist ways. Moreover, it is shocking that the brothers of any fraternity at our school, which promotes the rigorous exchange of intellectual ideas and challenging of preconceived notions, would collectively tolerate the kind of discourse evidenced by AEPi’s e-mails.
In addition, it is almost inconceivable that any individual would allow such incriminating sentiments to be recorded in a medium as permanent and easily retrievable as e-mail. If there’s anything our generation has learned, it’s that we need to watch what we share online. Would these e-mail chains even exist if the authors did not feel that their offensive ideas were safe within their fraternity?
This begs the question: to what extent is this incident a result of individual students’ actions, rather than a result of fraternities as an institution enabling their members to act in a way that would never be acceptable in any other environment? Though there may be no definitive answer, it is hard to deny that fraternities have been the locus of campus controversy over the past year. An alleged sexual assault at a fraternity house was reported to the UCPD in June, and another alleged sexual assault took place at Delta Upsilon (DU) in October. Recently, Phi Delta Theta’s national governing board voted to suspend its UChicago chapter after “risk management policy violations.”
Greek letters create an aegis under which young men can too easily hide from the consequences of their actions. The bonds of brotherhood may be strong and the networking opportunities may be great, but at what cost? Based on this year’s events, it seems that fraternities have been greater liabilities than assets to the UChicago community at large.
Now is the time for the University to consider if the continued existence of fraternities on campus is worth the potential costs to generations of students to come.
—The Maroon Editorial Board
Editor's Note: Sarah Manhardt recused herself from the writing of this editorial.