By Katelyn Gendelev’10
While a student at Beloit, I had the pleasure of working with Abby Burnham on more than one occasion. I appreciate both that tone does not always translate well to the written word and that tensions are currently a bit high in regards to personal criticisms of Round Table contributors, so let me emphasize that I say this without a trace of sarcasm or ill-will. She truly was a joy to interact with: kind, helpful, enthusiastic, well-informed. I was tremendously disappointed, therefore, to read last week’s Round Table and see someone who I know to be a wonderful advocate for women’s issues coming off as little more than a stereotypical and unpersuasive “angry feminist.” A woman who I’ve seen work so passionately to give voices to the marginalized and oppressed should know that name-calling and baseless claims are no more acceptable or productive when they are aimed at those perceived to be in power.
I cannot and I will not claim to speak for or defend the whole of Greek life on the Beloit campus; in fact, I’m not sure anyone could adequately or accurately do so. But I can and I will defend Phi Kappa Psi, whose brothers have been some of my most treasured friends since my very first days on campus. Abby herself excuses the use of generalizations, so I hope she will forgive generalizations based on years-long “research” into one-third of Beloit fraternity life.
I must first and foremost say how much I admire the stealth of the gentlemen of Phi Psi. In all my time spent in their fraternity house, I never once caught wind of their “ritual degrading of women,” nor did I ever hear the tiniest whisper of a conversation describing women “like they deserve to be assaulted.” As for the perpetuated support of “white, heterosexual men,” I’m fairly certain numerous non-white, non-heterosexual Beloiters would indeed take umbrage with their exclusion — not by Phi Psi, mind you, which welcomes them as brothers, but by Abby, who negates their active and appreciated roles in campus fraternity life. On this matter I can extend my alleged expertise farther than Phi Psi, as can anyone on campus who has ever walked by the Tau Kappa Epsilon house, which proudly flies not only the flags of its international members’ home countries but also the gay pride rainbow.
It took me a long time to compose this letter, mainly because I simply could not — and still cannot — wrap my head around the concept of Phi Psi as an organization in need of defense against claims of rampant subjugation and objectification of women. I find it an impossible task to summon up even a single memory of a Phi Psi brother exhibiting any form of gender-based disrespect or discrimination — unless you count the fact that I still haven’t convinced them to let me pledge the fraternity. The Phi Psis always made sure I got safely home late at night, often literally going out of their way to do so. They held me when I cried over the cruel, immature boys Abby seems to be mistaking them for. They distracted me when I was bouncing off the walls with anxiety about one of the thousand things college students have to be anxious about. They stopped “creepers” from intruding upon my personal space at dance parties. They consistently and graciously offered me everything from meal swipes to steadying shoulders to boxes of Kleenex to last-minute homework help. They were — and are — my friends, and I am proud and honored to say so. Frankly, I could use some of their cheery distraction right now to quell my anger at how dismissively and unjustifiably Abby has dragged their collective name through the mud.
But even apart from my visceral reaction to such an unmerited attack on an organization dear to my heart, Abby’s entire argument against fraternities on campus is full of unfounded assertions, beginning with her insistence that fraternities support the patriarchy. Even if I agreed with her claim, I would be hard-pressed to find any evidence to back it up in her article, which can’t even seem to decide upon a thesis. She starts out by lambasting the entire institution of United States Greek life as a mechanism of exclusion, hazing, and misogyny. She then deigns to offer up the barest of “okay, maybe” acknowledgments to the ways Beloit fraternities differ from these stereotypes — an acknowledgment that she immediately and snidely counteracts by deeming any defense of those good deeds mere “rationalization” to assuage personal guilt.
Next, she promises to link her criticisms of systemic, nationwide issues with an analysis of the problems she sees on her own campus by talking “about how Beloit College fraternities fit right in with the stereotypes of misogynistic frats.” Does she continue this discussion by presenting alarming statistics about the harassment and assault of women by fraternity members, or by comparing national pledging rituals with those found at Beloit, or perhaps by sharing a particularly condemning story about a Beloit fraternity member? Does she bother to dredge up one measly fact or tale about a Beloit fraternity or one of its brothers that could provide even the most tenuous of links to her more generalized critiques?
No, she does not. The only specific story she relates is that of her friend, who — despite his admittedly tactless phrasing — did, in fact, make sure a drunk girl got home safely. Considering Abby still labels him a friend, it would seem she does not view this one comment as emblematic of his entire personality, nor as an indication that his fraternity has mutated him into a misogynistic pig. Why, then, is this the sole concrete example upon which our belief in women-hating fraternities is supposed to hinge?
Why, for that matter, is there no discernable backing evidence for any of Abby’s allegations about fraternities? If successful persuasive writing was as easy as simply typing a sentence supporting one’s own personal opinions, I could have written all of my Beloit papers without cracking open a single book.
Trust me, Abby, I see many problems with the way women are treated in our society. But I see none of those problems in Phi Kappa Psi.