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November 9, 2020

The Presidential Election Is Just The Start

Even after all the votes are tallied, UChicago students must engage in our own community to effect change.

If I had to distill what I’ve learned during this election into two points, it’s that a lot of people still like Trump and that despite this, there is no option but to battle for what we believe in. Even though the election is over, there are still major problems in this country. Racism, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, transphobia, anti-semitism, and elitism won’t just go away because the final votes were tallied and Biden was declared victor. If we want to put the nation on a path to actual freedom and justice, it must begin with each individual. At UChicago, we have the power to determine the qualities of our community, so if we want to live in a country that reflects our values, we need to translate them into action starting here.

Members of organizations that allow hatred and violence to go unchecked should leave those groups. Panhellenic Greek organizations that promote socioeconomic exclusivity and a culture of misogyny, racism, and sexual assault will not change overnight, regardless of whether members acknowledge these issues. Analysis of the 2019 Campus Climate Survey revealed that “UChicago was the fifth-highest of the 33 participating universities with regard to the fraction of incidents [of sexual assault] that take place in a fraternity house: just under one in four. The national average for this statistic was 10.7 percent.” Additionally, minor change within a single chapter will have little effect on the institutional racism that is embedded within the national structure of Greek life. Those who leave won’t be the first to do so and certainly won’t be the last.

Furthermore, organizations that fail to take responsibility for their own actions should be criticized by similar groups and students who would otherwise interact with that organization. When a person actively aligns themselves with a group whose actions or lack thereof do not reflect what they believe in, they implicitly support those actions. On a larger level, some of the national headquarters of UChicago fraternities and sororities donated to a super PAC that spent $887,052 total in 2020, $362,500 of which went to federal candidates (48 percent to Democrats, 52 percent to Republicans). There is no point staying in an organization with whose values you do not agree, especially when the personal benefits of staying actively harm those outside of the group. Over the years, individual fraternities and sororities have promised reform and made efforts, but they continue to enable the existence of each other without lasting change. The benefits of Greek life should not come at the expense of the wellbeing of the student body. In this case, the only option is to leave.

In addition to being cognizant of their own membership in harmful organizations, students at UChicago should challenge political groups on this campus that spread misinformation and support policies that run contrary to their values. For example, the new publication The Chicago Thinker published an opinion piece on November 3, 2020 arguing that Biden’s presidential campaign was based on a lie that Trump condoned white supremacy after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017. The piece claims that Biden’s team intentionally misled supporters into believing that Trump was calling neo-Nazis and the KKK “fine people,” when Trump was actually referring to people protesting the removal of a statue depicting Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Setting aside the reality that modern-day supporters of the Confederacy are in fact supporting white supremacy, this article is a flimsy distraction from the long, public history of racist rhetoric Trump has developed throughout his lifetime. Since March 2020 alone, Trump has referred to the COVID-19 pandemic as the “Kung Flu, tweeted that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” in response to the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, tweeted a video of one of his supporters yelling “white power, announced his opposition to diversity training, and at the first presidential debate in September, when asked to condemn white supremacy, responded, “Proud boys, stand back and stand by.” It was irresponsible of *The Thinker’s* editors to publish a piece with such unfounded allegations: If the author of that piece argues that Biden lied about Trump’s 2017 comments, they should at least tell the full truth about Trump. As individuals, we must call out efforts to protect white supremacy within our community. Students should criticize groups and publications like *The Chicago Thinker* that promote political ideologies based in bigotry.

Additionally, this election does not mean the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, efforts to maintain personal safety and the health of others should not cease either. If we want to promote collective accountability for the wellbeing of our community, that includes setting and maintaining standards of safety for ourselves and our friends. It means continuing to follow science-backed guidelines from health officials and the City of Chicago, especially as the virus surges in our city. UChicago does not exist within a vacuum, so recklessness by students puts other residents of Hyde Park at risk. Therefore, by promoting empathy, responsibility, and kindness within our community of students, we can make positive change in the world around us.

Problematic Greek life, white supremacist discourse, and COVID-19 safety are just a few of the issues facing us here on campus. Nationally and globally, there are even more battles to be fought. However, vast change begins on a micro level. Joe Biden adn Kamala Harris won because countless volunteers, especially Black activists, helped others in their community register to vote, called up voters to cure their ballots and make sure their votes were counted, worked as poll watchers so votes could be cast fairly and safely, and because a record-breaking number of individual Americans mobilized to vote for him. We have the power to shape our world, and that starts with our actions. By engaging politically and socially on this campus, we can promote the values we believe in here at UChicago.

Sylvia Ebenbach is a third-year in the College.

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