In the effort to promote sensitivity on campus, MIT is not alone in excessively punishing the small-minded. Last Friday, Dartmouth College derecognized its Zeta Psi chapter following a month-long debate over the fraternity’s internal humor newsletter. The publication, which used the names and pictures of brothers and house friends when describing lurid sexual acts, sparked an uproar on Dartmouth’s campus and drew national media attention.
Regardless of its intended audience, Zeta Psi’s publication was offensive. The implications made about the character of house friends were slanderous and would hopefully make incoming Dartmouth students think twice about making Zeta Psi a part of their social lives. The humor in the newsletter is as tasteless as it is tacky and barely rises above the level of a cheap porno flick. The entire Greek system at Dartmouth -- indeed, Dartmouth itself -- should be embarrassed that such trash could come out of one of its member houses.
While the humor was excessively crude, however, the punishment was excessively harsh. If Zeta Psi had published the newsletter publicly across campus, then derecognition would be appropriate. In reality, however, the newsletter was intended only for members of the fraternity and not for the general community. It only became public after two copies were stolen from Zeta Psi members and a third was fished out of a dumpster. Furthermore, the intent of the newsletter was not malicious. While its “humor” value is questionable, its intended audience would not have found the material objectionable and certainly not mean-spirited.
Another concern with the sanction is its inherent double standard. That a fraternity published the newsletter was a likely factor in the seriousness of the punishment. Imagine if a sorority had published a lurid newsletter which used the names and pictures of sisters’ boyfriends, or if an unaffiliated student organization published a campuswide newsletter which crudely satired public and private figures on campus. The university’s reaction would have never reached close to derecognition for the former, and would have resulted in sanctions for the latter only in the most blatant cases of slander. Yet when a fraternity publishes an in-house collection of bathroom humor, the harshest punishments are assessed, especially given Dartmouth’s increasingly critical view of fraternities.
Zeta Psi does owe the slandered students and the entire Dartmouth community an apology. It is ultimately responsible for practicing such tasteless humor and for publishing this humor in a form which could have been easily read (and stolen) by non-members. The best punishment for Zeta Psi, then, comes from the court of public opinion. Most students at Dartmouth were appalled by the content in the newsletter and would most likely reconsider any involvement with the house after seeing how it treats its own friends and members.
College students have the right and the intelligence to shun the offensive. Dartmouth should let its students think for themselves about what type of conduct to endorse.
The editorial board reached its decision by a vote of 5-3. Board member Dana Levine has recused himself from this editorial.