Debate on Fraternities raises important issues in an inappropriate format

By Noah Siedman || Contributing Writer

I am a senior, a fraternity member, and a student at Franklin and Marshall College. Whatever subsets of that community you or I belong to, we are all part of the same, larger community, and it is as a member of that community that I write this.

I want to address the decision by Greek organizations not to participate in the Debate on Fraternities, which is being organized by F&M’s Debate Team and being held on March 1. I want to make it clear that I am writing this with one audience in mind, the F&M community, and all those it includes.

It is very easy, and I would argue safe right now, to criticize Greek life. This criticism is not unwarranted, either. Recently, Greek organizations have perpetrated and occasionally been the victims of acts that severely harm the safety and well-being of the campuses they are part of. These transgressions have been widely covered and discussed, and I admit that Greek life as a whole has a very poor public image. It is easy and safe to critique a system that values secrecy, selectivity, and its social component.

It is much harder to defend Greek life. Her champions are subject to greater scrutiny, and the burden of proof rests with those who would defend it. To defend my brotherhood, I must be unimpeachable; I must demonstrate my honesty and integrity. I must struggle to untangle my own actions from those of every other member of a fraternity, to differentiate my organization, and our community from the polarized image of Greek life presented in the media. It is a scary prospect to know that in order to defend my brothers, to speak to our contributions on this campus, I must also answer for the wrongs committed elsewhere by others whose actions and motives I cannot control.

I can face these things; I can show the successes of my organization and point to how we have enhanced the community. I can stand up for my failures, personal and organizational, and work to fix them under as much scrutiny as is needed. I welcome this opportunity because I believe that it will make my community better.

What I cannot do, however, is stand up at the Debate on Fraternities and refute point by point the criticisms of this system. I cannot list the benefits of the Greek community to offset the grievances you may have against it.

What I will not do is be seen as a member of just one community. I am a student at this college, a colleague to all those who attend, and a brother of my fraternity. I will not speak at this debate because I fear that I would be seen only as Noah Siedman, fraternity brother, not Noah Siedman, student of Franklin and Marshall College.

My brothers, sisters, and I will be in attendance. We will listen and consider all that is said, we will walk out of that debate ready to speak to our peers as individuals and as representatives of our organizations, of the Greek community, and of the F&M community. Seek us out and ask questions: We are not afraid to answer them, to admit that we cannot answer some of them, or to work with our community to improve.

What we do fear is being stripped of all our identity but that of our Greek organization, of being made into representatives of people and groups beyond our control and outside the F&M community. I fear what might be assumed of me when I am reduced to being just a member of a fraternity: Am I lumped in with the arrogant, rich, degenerates that popular culture makes Greeks out to be? As a member of a fraternity is my support of Greek life presumed to be absolute and dogmatic? I refuse to be reduced to representing one side of this issue; I want to be part of the conversation.  

Our silence at this debate is not born of cowardice, and it is not indicative of guilt nor unwillingness to be part of the dialogue. We want to be part of this conversation, but we want to do it on equal footing, where everyone’s experiences unify us in improving our campus instead of stratifying it.

I write this for Greek men and women who are angry at being silenced, who are unsure of how to defend a part of their lives, and who are concerned that they should have to do so. I write this for those who have never been part of the Greek community and are drawing their own conclusions about our decision not to participate. We need to understand one another, recognize that we are all part of the same community and that we all have a responsibility to improve it. This needs to be done in a dialogue, not a debate or a forum. It needs to take place on the way to class and on Hartman Green, in the halls of Bonchek College House, and the common rooms of College Row. I believe this debate will be an opportunity to grapple with an important issue, but I believe that the conversations that follow it is where change and progress will be made and where understanding will be reached.

Senior Noah Siedman is a contributing writer. His email is nsiedman@fandm.edu.

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