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Fraternities Have Redeeming Qualities

As someone who has long been concerned about and has worked against prejudice, I am disturbed that there is a group that is considered a fair target of stereotypical insults and abuse. I am embarrassed that I once shared this prejudice, which is still held by many on campus, especially those who are generally the most concerned about harmful stereotypes.

I am talking about prejudice against fraternity members. In my years at MIT, I have seen many instances of fraternities being treated in a way in which it is considered unacceptable to treat other groups. For example, a few years ago, at an MIT-sponsored lecture on date rape, the speaker joked that "Not all rapes are committed in fraternities; sometimes the brothers go outside the house." People would have instantly recognized this statement as offensive if black men had been substituted for fraternity members.

As a second example, when I was discussing how to fight discrimination against blacks with an MIT dean and a few professors, the dean lamented the difficulty of the job, invoking the image of a "stereotypical fraternity member." Nobody showed any offense at that remark. I am confident that people would have immediately taken offense if the Dean had made a derogatory reference to a "stereotypical Jew."

The most serious recent abuse of a fraternity is the vandalism of Tau Epsilon Phi, which is thought to be in response to TEP's embellishment of the Smoots on the Harvard Bridge ["Fraternities Settle After TEP House, Smoots Vandalized," Nov. 16]. Intruders broke into TEP, splattered rotting materials, stole a few items, unplugged a refrigerator, left a bag of live insects in the sink, spilled paint, and deflated tires of cars in the back lot. Such criminal and harassing behavior would justly be decried and punished if it happened at the sorority Alpha Phi or at a dorm.

I was astonished when Robert B. Dimmick's letter ["Graffiti Hurts Relations," Nov. 19] criticized the embellishment of the Smoots and the graffiti in front of TEP but not the vandalism done inside the fraternity. Dimmick urged LCA President Neelesh H. Mehendale '94 and Neal H. Dorow, assistant dean for fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups, to "indicate how they are going to be disciplined and how they intend to combat homophobia in LCA." I agree this should be done, but it should also be a priority to punish and prevent serious vandalism of an MIT living group. It is the height of insensitivity for Dimmick to criticize the "vandal[ism] of the Smoots" but not the criminal damage done to the TEP house.

The stereotyping and abuse of any group at MIT must not be condoned. It is hypocritical for individuals ostensibly opposed to discrimination to sanction and even participate in mistreating any group. Actively opposing bigotry toward fraternity members does not diminish one's commitment to helping long-mistreated groups; rather, it shows a commitment to treating every person with dignity.

Ellen Spertus G