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Real Problem, Excessive Solution

The incident last Friday between Alpha Tau Omega and The Roots was an embarrassing beginning to this year’s Spring Weekend. Following a careless racial remark by an ATO brother, two affiliates of the predominantly African-American band entered the fraternity, began threatening house residents, and engaged the brothers in a brief scuffle.

The ATO brother’s taunt was without question tasteless and offensive. The prejudice he expressed runs counter to this campus’s ideals of openness and tolerance. His conduct should not be supported or condoned, and his fraternity took an appropriate first step by considering sanctions against him.

While much attention has been given to the taunt, The Roots’ entry into ATO’s house and subsequent threatening behavior has received little recognition. The taunt provoked the encounter, but The Roots should have shown their maturity by ignoring the insensitive brother. Although the fraternity sparked the incident, it does not bear complete responsibility for the escalation, but rather shares responsibility with members of the group.

Given the nature of the escalation, the sanctions against ATO appear to be excessive. The mandate for ill-defined “sensitivity” training for the entire house, the requirement that ATO sponsor a cultural symposium during rush, the idea that the house cooperate with the Cambridge Police Department, and the restriction on social activities at the house until Aug. 15 seem to indicate a knee-jerk reaction that serves to isolate and scapegoat the fraternity rather than address a systematic campus-wide problem.

To be sure, ATO does not have the best reputation for tolerance (most recently a brother was suspended for three terms for sending hate mail to a gay student), and the transgression committed by the ATO brother again reflects poorly on the entire house. At its heart, however, the remark was an individual act and does not imply that the rest of the house shares the same view. ATO is one of the more diverse houses, a stature it could not reach by practicing overt racism.

ATO’s decision to self-impose sanctions is politically understandable, especially given the negative light in which the Cambridge License Commission will almost certainly view the incident. Even with the self-imposed sanctions, it is possible that the CLC will impose additional sanctions on the house, up to and including revocation of its lodging license. It is discouraging that ATO was forced to go extreme measures to placate the CLC and prevent further punishment over an individual act.

Without question, discussion about racism at MIT is necessary. Our campus does have a problem with racism, both in public and in private. This individual act and the accompanying sanctions, however, are not the vehicles for furthering this discussion.

The Editorial Board reached its decision by a vote of 6-1.