by Daniel Kees
I generally try to stay out of campus politics (well, Greek politics anyway). But I couldn’t help but notice, as I’m sure most students have, the upheaval caused by a recent article about Millsaps, race, and the Greek system.
By no means are discussions of race and/or the Greek system a new phenomenon on campus, nor is the subsequent, visceral reaction. Every few years, someone offers a controversial opinion for or against Greek Life, people get offended, chaos ensues. You know, the usual. However, as a non-Greek person, I found it quite interesting how personally many Greeks seemed to take the article’s accusations and how quickly responses flowed and tempers flared. It made me think more deeply about what is at stake here, besides some hurt feelings. At issue is the intersection of highly polarizing topics: Greek Life, race, Southern history, elitism (with other -isms likely at play), and many other elements, to be sure.
I must say I enjoyed the article, a breath of fresh air. Indeed, my only major gripe with the piece lies not in what was said but in what appeared to be the author’s occasional backtracking when challenged on social media. As Merrilee herself noted, it’s an opinion piece. We never apologize for our opinions, especially not to make others feel less uncomfortable. Sometimes we need to feel uncomfortable; that’s how we grow. So good on her for challenging the status quo, for poking our perfect little Millsaps Bubble. To borrow a line: Buck up, Miss Author! You did good.
Now I turn to the campus-wide outrage, which initially seemed disproportionate—until I thought about how we’re a 60/40 Greek/non-Greek campus. Still, I was most shocked—and, honestly, quite disappointed—by much of the response. Persons attacked Ms. Bufkin for an apparent lack of depth in her assertions while also citing various grammatical “errors,” the majority of which I never found. I thought it a beautifully written piece, but maybe I’m illiterate. Who knows? Beyond that, I was saddened by the level and tone of discourse. Merrilee’s words were met with open hostility and—besides the unfounded critique of her writing style—many comments seemed to be aimed at little more than tearing down anyone who dare challenge the supremacy of the Greeks. This College prides itself on exposing students to—and encouraging tolerance of—different worldviews. I’d have hoped we could have taken a more measured, logic-based approach in our responses. We are all Millsapians; let’s act like it.
As SBA’s non-Greek rep, I well understand that the campus’ Greek percentage is significant. Still, only in very recent months have I become even vaguely aware of the influence of the Greek system. The system’s power structure is formidable, to be sure, but there are plenty of other ways to make have a presence on campus. As Millsaps always says, “If there’s not a club, start one!” If you don’t like the game, play something else.
Still, the nature of the Greek system does at times ring a bit exclusive, although that does little to lessen its appeal. I’d be lying if I said the Greek system doesn’t foster a discernible sense of belonging, a powerful network, and—best of all—an uncannily effective means of organizing and mobilizing students for various causes. Non-Greek clubs often have great difficulty in establishing and maintaining a presence on campus. Whether this is due more to the (sometimes mandated) proactivity of altruistic Greeks or to an apparent lack of motivation among independents, I could not venture to say.
Greek organizations are families, plain and simple. And most of us would do anything—be it philanthropy or other noble endeavors—for our families. But Millsaps is also a family. That being said, it’s important to be conscious and deliberate in our descriptions of each other. These characterizations, well-founded or not, set the tone for all of our interactions with one another. Therefore, I feel compelled to offer my take on the “lettered” men who also call Millsaps home.
I think it goes without saying that the events of that now-infamous University of Oklahoma video are both appalling and disheartening. However, I feel compelled to cite the Pauli exclusion principle (paraphrasing a bit—well, a lot): Two objects cannot occupy the same space. That is, those SAE’s are not our SAE’s. They may be better; they may be worse. But we cannot assign the characteristics of one group to a whole population. America does that sometimes, and it usually doesn’t go over well. It’s as unfortunate as it is pernicious. Ms. Bufkin expressed a sentiment with which I am in wholehearted agreement: The men of SAE have always been nothing but welcoming and kind. I can say the same of the KA’s, who—contrary to popular belief—are not the only fraternity that has “links” to the Old South (or to the Confederacy). I’ve always marveled at how well they handle the constant attacks on their organization’s character in light of their commitment to upholding important aspects of their history. I recognize and appreciate that trait. Again, I can only speak for myself, but I’ve never had a bad experience with either group of guys. In fact, the same can be said of almost all the Greek men and women with whom I’ve come into contact. Not everyone’s going to like you, but at least at Millsaps, those character assessments are based more on personality than on the letters one wears.
Though black, I in no way presume to speak for Millsaps’ black student population. They have their own voices, and I implore them to use them. My experiences may not be the experiences of others, and as I’ve never participated in Greek recruitment, I can’t speak to those types of concerns. I can only say what I know. There are a myriad of explanations—some simple, some not—of why students participate in recruitment. From what I’ve gathered, one thing that contributes significantly to the lack of racial diversity in Greek organizations is the fact that many black students don’t rush. I know the Greek organizations could all benefit from a bigger push for diversity during recruitment (an understandably difficult task given the neutral tenor of recruitment). Still, at the very least, more inclusive recruiting would allow frats to cite more than their one (or two—let’s be generous) black/brown members as an example of their “rich diversity”.
I believe I have—or am developing—at least a surface-level understanding of how the Greek system works at Millsaps. No, it’s not the most inclusive system, but no system is perfectly so. The important thing moving forward is that students voice their opinions, however different, regarding diversity in Greek organizations. If it’s something Greeks want to push for, they need only decide to do so.
As I hope is clear by this point, I am not offering a scathing indictment of the Millsaps Greek system. Nor am I here to be the College’s easily digestible Oreo (or any other Nabisco-brand snack), spouting the praises of a system that I could not hope to fully understand. Nor am I here to crucify a young woman who simply offered her thoughts on a matter of great significance. I’m simply here to give my opinion and to encourage a sincere and robust dialogue. That means talking and listening. After all, isn’t that what families do?