School Socialization Should Shame Us All

25 02 2007

“The injustice of the lies,” she said, “is contemptible.”

The 23 members [evicted] included every woman who was overweight. They also included the only black, Korean and Vietnamese members. The dozen students allowed to stay were slender and popular with fraternity men — conventionally pretty women the sorority hoped could attract new recruits. Six of the 12 were so infuriated they quit.

“Virtually everyone who didn’t fit a certain sorority member archetype was told to leave,” said Kate Holloway, a senior who withdrew from the [Delta Zeta] chapter during its reorganization. “I sensed the disrespect with which this was to be carried out . . .I didn’t have room in my life for these women to come in and tell my sisters of three years that they weren’t needed.”

Ms. Holloway is not the only angry one. The reorganization has left a messy aftermath of recrimination and tears on this rural campus of 2,400 students, 50 miles southwest of Indianapolis.

The mass eviction battered the self-esteem of many of the former sorority members, and some withdrew from classes in depression. There have been student protests, outraged letters from alumni and parents, and a faculty petition calling the sorority’s action unethical.

DePauw’s president, Robert G. Bottoms, issued a two-page letter of reprimand to the sorority. In an interview in his office, Dr. Bottoms said he had been stunned by the sorority’s insensitivity.

“I had no hint they were going to disrupt the chapter with a membership reduction of this proportion in the middle of the year,” he said. “It’s been very upsetting.”

The school’s president is stunned and upset? One could argue this was a very effective object lesson, exactly the kind of learning experience school social systems were originally constituted to deliver and reinforce and have done ruthlessly ever since. If he doesn’t like it, he’s in a position to start changing it. Otherwise he needs to own it.

Everything about college campus life — from getting in to getting along, to getting through, to getting a job through those social contacts — imposes this same lesson *by institutional design and with institutional support* and college presidents must’ve learned it as well as any silly sorority girl or rejected chubbette.

Maybe better! – some university presidents are in practice shamelessly playing for institutional reputation, recruiting by rankings, weeding and culling and shuffling students like playing cards for the next bet, grasping for the top and misrepresenting the truth, all for institutional glorification bigger to them than the import of any individual students underserved, unserved or downright devastated by the “lesson”:

Howard Gardner makes the point less offensively, but he’s saying the same thing. Presidents have lost their way no less than status-focused sorority recruiters from the head office.

. . .the more I have thought about it, the more I have become
convinced that the goal of topping the international comparisons is a foolish one, and the rush to raise one’s rank a fool’s errand. In the process of pursuing a higher rank, educational leaders are ignoring deeper and more important purposes of education.

Not so different imo, from what Delta Zeta’s head office managers and PR administrator foolishly hoped to accomplish by this:

“They had these unassuming freshman girls downstairs with these plastic women from Indiana University, and 25 of my sisters hiding upstairs,” she said. “It was so fake, so completely dehumanized. . .”

School sports, clubs, prizes and privilege, including those passively earned via family wealth and status, from the Duke lacrosse team’s social behavior or FAMU’s marching band hazing mutilations to fresh-faced exclusive fraternities and sororities, carve this lesson deeply into the psyche (if not the very flesh) of America’s collective student body.

It’s never in the mission statement, but School teaches and perputuates such hard socialization lessons more thoroughly than anything else it attempts. . . and while that IS upsetting, it’s hardly a shock, at least not to anyone as well-schooled as I was, surely not to any university president or professor with the slightest ability to see, think, and speak about social truth.

“The injustice of the lies,” she said, “is contemptible.”

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6 responses

26 02 2007
misedjj

One of the first real newspaper stories I wrote at my top-five ranked J school was about a girl in my dorm who entered the Miss University of Florida contest. She hoped to pledge a sorority for the next term, was meeting people, and thought this would enhance her entry to that world. So she went through the whole process, not only lost but felt degraded and humiliated, and was understandably bitter about what she had seen from backstage. She told me the whole story and I wrote it from her POV, submitted it to my professor and it was chosen by the independent student newspaper for publication!

Hurray! Except.
The next day after it ran, I’m told I will get an automatic zero in the class, the papaer will run a complete retraction and be under sanction because the subject of my story is very upset and says she didn’t say those things. Can I back it up, or will I go down like Jayson Blair?

I went to the girl who was totally distraught. We both knew she’d said it all (and more) so she didn’t try to pretend otherwise to me. Instead she asked my forgiveness, but said her social life was over if I didn’t retract the story, maybe even if I did. My academic career (much less the simple facts!) couldn’t compare to the devastating importance of that, in her mind. It was what Scott Somerville calls a “matter of ultimate concern” for her, which turned out to be quite a lesson for us both.

8 03 2007
Identity and Image=Evangelical Cannibalism!

[…] a bit like those self-absorbed sorority image freaks last week, trying desperately to deny and defy changing college cultures and manipulate reality […]

14 03 2007
Homeschoolers Outhinking College Gatekeepers « Cocking A Snook!

[…] students? College administrators from Harvard’s Derek Bok to food-fighting Floridians to such tightly wrapped turf-guarders as this, have SO disappointed me! Hey, maybe we should hire and fire them by the GED? (bet she never took […]

20 03 2007
misedjj

UPDATE – the DePauw U. president decided to do something about it, interesting!

In response to the sorority’s actions, DePauw President Robert Bottoms announced Tuesday that Delta Zeta would no longer be a campus organization and said the university would help the students find alternative housing.

“I have severed future ties with Delta Zeta National,” Bottoms said in a letter to the Delta Zeta sorority. “The values of DePauw University and those of the Delta Zeta National Sorority are incompatible.”

Bottoms added that the university’s problems with Delta Zeta nationals were not reflective of the sorority’s local members, or the Delta Zeta alumnae of DePauw, who have expressed their disgust and disbelief with the actions of their national organization.

20 03 2007
misedjj

And while we’re talking about the contemptible injustice of lies told in “socializing” girls and young women, let’s not leave out the “Purity Balls” and the “crisis pregnancy centers.” Apparently such abstinence-obsessed projects actually receive government funding these days, as health care and sex education.

23 03 2007
misedjj

This will curl your hair or kill your appetite, which might help your social life at that —
“How the Public School System Crushes Souls” by Steve Olsen

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