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Building A Tolerant Community

Kevin Q. Choi

When I last wrote in a column about the student who had sent me hate e-mail and how the MIT Committee on Discipline had suspended him for three semesters, I didn’t even mention Alpha Tau Omega. Sure, the student responsible was a member of ATO, but how can I fault the entire fraternity for the behavior of one of its members?

Well, it’s happened again -- with a different cast, a different incident, but the same ATO. On the evening of April 27, a fraternity brother who was helping organize the Spring Weekend Concert escorted three members of The Roots to the ATO house. When the band members arrived, an ATO brother on the roofdeck shouted, “I love black people!” in reference to the movie Jerry McGuire. Jaguar, a female guest performer with the band, heard the phrase, and yelled back at the people on the deck. Another ATO brother then approached the edge of the roof and yelled, “Who’s that angry black bitch?” In dispute is whether the “N-word” was used as opposed to “black.”

By this time, Jaguar was visibly angry. She rushed into the house and ran up the stairs, grabbing a large spoon from the kitchen along the way. When she arrived at the roofdeck, she demanded whoever said those words to step forward and apologize. Somewhere in the confusion and anger, a fight ensued, and the lead male rapper Black Thought ended up getting kicked in the head by one of the fraternity brothers.

Since the incident, two ATO brothers have come forward. They are both Asian, which suggests that intolerance and racism are not exclusive to white people. Who knows what will happen to them? Perhaps if they are lucky, they’ll get suspended, but they might get expelled, since the Institute does not tolerate such behavior. We won’t know for another three months, since that’s how long it usually takes for all the facts to come out and for the MIT administration to carry out its disciplinary process. It’s a pity, really -- how one evening’s worth of carelessness can jeopardize your whole academic career, and even your future.

This incident reminds us that while racism and intolerance are not always overt on campus, they exist here. The fraternity system, and I hope the Interfraternity Council as well, will take the lead role in this, and they should look closely at what happened a week ago at the ATO house and carry out preventative measures to ensure that such incidents will never occur at any other house again. ATO’s agreement to undergo racial sensitivity training is definitely a good first step.

Fraternities and their members do a lot of good work for the university. The annual bone marrow drive, the talent shows, and the volunteer work that a lot of fraternity members participate in are all examples of the amount of good that fraternities provide to the community. But unless the IFC and the houses themselves work to prevent reckless behavior from happening, all the great things fraternities do will continue to be overshadowed by all the alcohol-related, intolerant, and racist incidents that have occurred in the past few years.

The IFC and the fraternities can no longer afford to be complacent. Neither can we. If we don’t stand up and demand that ATO and other living groups take responsibility for their behavior and find solutions to these problems, then we are not doing them or ourselves any justice. MIT is a school of leaders and great people. We must demand respect and tolerance from each other. The ATO incident reminds us of what can happen if we don’t.