By Henry Thornton
Author’s Note: The panelists briefly introduced themselves in the beginning of the panel and had no placards. Attributing each quote to its speaker is nearly impossible, so I have tried to address the panel as a group instead of individual pieces. Ironically, this fits nicely with the message discussed.
In light of the disturbing video that emerged last month of brothers in the Oklahoma chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon the Sewanee SAE chapter elected to hold a panel to speak on racial issues. There was a huge turnout for the panel, but is has been confirmed by the Purple that several fraternity and sorority pledge classes were instructed to attend by leaders in their Greek organizations. The panel took questions from the audience and messages of honesty and consistency emerged.
The panel quickly established that the racist video was appalling and overt, and most racism at Sewanee was more subtle but still very much present. The first question asked if every SAE was behind hosting the talk. The SAE members on the panel said the chapter was very much behind this talk. They “felt the need to address the issue because we wear the same letters as the guys in that video.”
A later question asked the people of a minority race group on the panel if they ever felt marginalized at Sewanee. Multiple people said they felt tired of speaking for their entire race in group conversations, “I feel like I always have to say, this isn’t just for black people” said one participant. Another panelist mentioned the questions during men’s formal fraternity rush that he considered racist. “Frats would ask ‘What’s your best black joke’ and I’d be like, standing right here man.”
In a connection with the racist joke point, many examples of less overt Sewanee racism came up. “Why do we have a BET & CMT party?” asked one panelist. Another panelist said, “I feel welcomed when I’m in my suit, but when I dress how I like I get a lot less ‘hellos’ than before.” Many other panelists agreed that these “microagressions” were very frustrating and they saw them almost every day. One panelist disagreed with the idea of colorblindness, “race is all around us” he said “you’d be a fool not to see it and its effects.”
The panel was asked about reverse racism, prejudice against the majority by minority groups. “There is no such thing as reverse racism, racism is an institution and these microagressions are permutations of that entrenched, very old, American institution” he said. “I don’t want people to think I’m racist just because I’m an SAE” added a different participant.
There was a question about how the average Sewanee student could be more inclusive. “There a lots of panels and events like this, with a lot less people attending,” said one participant.