The Road Is Not Paved With Good Intentions

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On October 31st, I checked my inbox and spotted an email with the subject-heading “Fraternity Party Incident,” announcing that a fraternity party was cancelled for denigrating women and identifying people through cultural stereotypes.  The email acknowledged that this kind of behavior is intolerable by the University and how it will be corrected and prevented from occurring in the future.

Without a pause, I thought, somebody is taking steps to protect minorities. That must be a good thing, right? After all, discrimination towards women and peoples of color greatly hinder their personal development and ability for social impact. White males still dominate fields that most strongly impact on the economy, such as the financial industry, politics, law and so forth. There are good reasons to believe that women and people of color should be supported and protected: so they can be provided opportunities with no more difficulty than their white male counterparts.

In this sense, the University is doing a good deed. However, despite my sincere appreciation of the University’s intent and efforts to address this issue, I must express my concerns about the process of dealing with the incident. My concern is not based on ideology or the University’s right to terminate student events. My concern addresses the effectiveness of their way to deal with offensive events against minorities, and the consequences of their actions.

Now, let’s quickly review what the University did. “Immediately upon being informed… [they] met with the fraternity chapter president to discuss the issue and begin taking appropriate corrective steps”. (Cancellation of the event is one of them as indicated by the email.) They are also “working collaboratively with the national fraternity headquarters, which has imposed restrictions on the fraternity until a full investigation occurs.” Also, an apology by the fraternity’s president has already been issued. The school will also impose educational interventions and plan educational forums with the fraternity.

I expect to hear from those individuals who were offended in the first place, to hear their rationale behind reporting this party. I would like to hear their voices in the process of the investigation, and their demand for apologies. However, all I received was the “whom-it-may-concern” rhetoric to stop and correct the situation. “Teach him to fish, not give him a fish.” The University’s actions make me feel like they are giving fish to offended minorities, but not teaching them how to fish. Not a single word mentions HOW minorities can protect their rights. No mention on possible institutions minorities can turn to for help, no follow-up on minorities’ involvement in the investigation, education, or “correction,” as the school calls it. As a result, possible ways to establish self-protection have not been sufficiently emphasized. Individual rights not fully recognized. Minorities were protected in this specific case, but were not given advice on self-protection, such as how can they equip themselves when they encounter similar incident in the future. How can a solution in this case be called effective if it cannot help most minorities better equip themselves to fend off future incidences?

The consequences are concerning. Since the University is helping minorities, chances are, reliance on the University becomes natural. Reliance on some institution, organization or group is dangerous for human rights. The effects are twofold. The reliance itself discourages minorities to pursue their rights and make their stance. We know the story — a rich man consistently gives to his small town he grew up in, and hopes that his hometown develops. However, his charity is exactly what hinders the growth of his hometown, because people feel they can depend on his charity. The same logic applies to our case. It is even more dangerous if the University on which minorities rely fosters overreliance.

A solution is effective only when it addresses the fundamental issues in the problem. So what are the fundamental issues here? The fraternity dared to organize the offensive party not because its members didn’t know what they are doing, or because they were unafraid of the University, or that they didn’t care about the national fraternity headquarters, but because they thought that the individuals they were offending were too weak to fight back. Therefore, education will not help because you cannot teach someone who pretends that he doesn’t know. University interference will not work either since it is fairly easy for this fraternity party to find somewhere outside the University’s power. The only ways that will work are those that make minorities stronger.

Good intent without effective results seems to imply irresponsibility and lack of real care. In order to avoid ineffective results and bad consequences, I believe the University should take steps to involve offended parties into the decision making process, turn their focus on educating minorities on self-protection, and give them chances to make their stance.

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