Greek life writ large has drawn criticism nationally for lacking inclusivity, perpetuating insensitivity and contributing to rape culture on college campuses. Last week, Tufts’ four Greek councils (the Inter-Greek Council, Multicultural Greek Council, Inter-Fraternity Council and Panhellenic Council) refuted this reputation with a letter to fraternity and sorority leaders, urging the Greek community to take a united stance against offensive and dangerous behavior this Halloween weekend. Some have mistakenly attributed the letter to the administration, but this was no top-down edict imposed on the student body. This was circulated to students, by students, of their own volition. The letter not only cautioned members against racist, insensitive and appropriative costumes, but also urged partygoers to take steps to mitigate incidents of sexual assault and dangerous levels of alcohol consumption.
The administration and Greek organizations have already worked together to make parties safer by ensuring that leaders are trained in risk management practices and emergency procedures. The steps outlined in the recent letter display the commitment our Greek organizations have toward ensuring that all parts of Tufts culture — including our party culture — maintain the respect, safety and sensitivity that all students should be afforded.
Some have criticized the letter as evidence of “PC culture” dominating the discourse at Tufts, and have claimed that calling for sensitivity on Halloween is a curtailment of our freedoms of speech and expression. However, political correctness — at least in this instance — is about ensuring that when individuals are in the public sphere, they are aware of how their actions might impact others. Appropriating someone else’s culture, especially in a mocking or disrespectful way, is ignorant and callous. One’s desire to show off a costume should not come at the expense of another’s dignity.
Others point toward the letter’s affirmation that offensive, threatening or appropriative costumes may result in action taken by the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) and/or TUPD as evidence that the administration is systematically stripping students of their right to self-expression. But the letter’s statement is not a threat — it’s a reminder of the social contract we all accepted once we came to this university. The university’s Non-Discrimination Policy clearly states that all students are guaranteed the right to live and learn in a setting that is free from discrimination and harassment, and it is the university’s responsibility to uphold and protect this tenet. Anytime a student makes another student feel threatened or unsafe, the offending student is liable for an OEO or TUPD investigation. That is our university’s policy on all days – not just Halloween. The fact of the matter is that Halloween inherently invites more opportunities to intimidate other students or make them feel uncomfortable or attacked, but that does not mean that inappropriate and offensive behavior suddenly becomes acceptable on our campus.
The administration is not claiming that a student will be arrested for an offensive costume. The letter is clear that action will only be taken in cases in which a student makes others feel unsafe or acts in an offensive or discriminatory way; these instances will be evaluated based on the impact that the actions have on others. Some believe this type of administrative action is too subjective and is thus an abusive policy. While it is undoubtedly subjective, that does not make the policy abusive or ineffective. Instances of discrimination and harassment vary case-by-case to such a degree that they cannot possibly be encapsulated by a policy that is rigid in its definition of what constitutes an infraction. Policies like these are broad by their very nature. Moreover, the process by which the OEO investigations occur leaves multiple steps for appeal. There’s no evidence that the OEO panel is punishing students in overly-harsh ways that are stifling expression. Rather, they are working to ensure safety, inclusivity and respect for everyone on our campus.
The letter sent out by the Greek councils has caused quite a stir in the Tufts community. Ultimately, the steps outlined in the letter will make this Halloween weekend more inclusive and more safe for all Tufts students. And, if that means that someone will have to buy a new costume to replace something wildly offensive that might cause other students to feel unsafe or unwelcome, then that will be money well spent.