Innocent until proven … associated?

Posted on Feb 26 2014 - 8:32am by Whitney Greer

Recently it has come to be known that the three young men who put a noose and Georgia state flag on the James Meredith statue were part of Greek life at Ole Miss. Statistically this information isn’t staggering, as well over a quarter of students at the university are involved in Greek organizations. The concern arising from the students’ past affiliation with a fraternity is the idea that there might be others or more like them within this large social construct.

Certainly each “house” in the Greek system attempts to generate members of a similar nature. Certainly these “houses” and the system by which they recruit members is exclusionary and fosters adherence to similar standards of conduct, which at times may induce a touch of mindless herd mentality. However, to assume that the actions of a few reflect the intent of many is not only wrong, but also harmful.

Overreaction is just as destructive as apathy, and as the university reels from this incident, I encourage the community to take rational and fair steps toward handling this situation. As with any incident of extremism that damages the collective good, the affected populous looks for someone to blame, to prosecute; they search for a system that could possibly have generated motivation for the baffling action that has taken place.

The Alpha chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon, the fraternity to which the three boys belonged, has been “indefinitely suspended” by its national headquarters as they “conduct a comprehensive review of the membership.” For those calling for the fraternity’s suspension to become permanent, I ask, why now? Let the investigation proceed and ensure it is thorough, but until evidence of the Alpha chapter having fostered racial or discriminatory behavior emerges, don’t punish innocent students by barring them from an institution of Ole Miss student life.

Individuals from all sects of society perpetrate acts of stupidity and extremism; however, this fact alone does not condone punishing people by innocent association. It is now our collective responsibility to heal and grow together, working to discourage hate and educate about acceptance, which ultimately sends a far stronger message than dismantling a group of 135 that unwittingly contained three radicals.

Ole Miss community, I urge you not to take the easy way out of this deeply wounding incident. Boarding up the Sig Ep chapter at Ole Miss and patting ourselves on the back for having struck a blow for racial equality would be a travesty. This is a time for broad social introspection, not for playing the blame game. Ole Miss and Oxford culture need to take a look inward and search for ways each of us as individuals can overcome this abominable action and prevent others like it.

As said by Ole Miss Sig Ep President Jeremy Smith, “That three students who previously identified with our fraternity (and university) could do something like this has been a humbling experience … I hope to use this humbling moment and the national stage it has created to lead our chapter and this campus in an effort to ensure that nothing like this ever occurs again at The University of Mississippi.”

Let us do just that — work together as a united community instead of attempt to dismantle each other in retribution.

Whitney Greer is a sophomore English major from Medford, Ore.