An open letter to the Board of Regents from Greek organizations on campus

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Photo courtesy of Google Images.

February 28, 2018

Joseph DeLozier, Chairman

The Rt. Rev. John Howard, Chancellor

Margaret McLarty, Secretary

John M. McCardell, Jr., Vice-Chancellor

 

Dear Officers of the Board of Regents,

At the beginning of the year, we gathered as leaders of Sewanee’s sorority and fraternity community and discussed our goals for the year. We collectively reflected that this year we would strive to foster inclusion and collaboration within the Greek system. While we are supportive of the Faculty Senate’s decision to rescind Charlie Rose’s honorary degree, we recognize that the final decision is put in the hands of the Board of Regents.  Thus, we find it necessary to say that we do not support the Board of Regents’ decision to maintain Charlie Rose’s honorary degree, as it does not align with our values as a community. A community of inclusion means a community where everyone feels safe. We do not believe that survivors of sexual harassment and assault can feel safe and supported so long as Charlie Rose’s degree still stands.

This decision from the Board of Regents allowed our community time for intentional reflection.  We strive to do all we can to minimize sexual assault on campus as well as to support survivors. To do this, we constructed an action plan that includes the following: new members in fraternities will attend a screening of the film The Mask You Live In with facilitated conversation afterwards.  According to their website, the film shows how “protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence. These gender stereotypes interconnect with race, class, and circumstance, creating a maze of identity issues boys and young men must navigate to become ‘real’ men.” We are showing the film to educate our male new members on how toxic masculinity can create an environment that is conducive to violence and sexual assault.  Additionally, all new members will attend the Escalation workshop consisting of a film viewing and facilitated conversation about the signs of relationship abuse sponsored by the One Love Foundation.  New members will learn how to spot the signs of abuse and how to intervene in a supportive manner.  Additionally, we are bringing Planned Parenthood to Sewanee for a sexual education program for all new members and everyone else in the community.  This workshop will include both sexual education and education on consent, especially in situations, like at Sewanee, when substances and sex often go hand in hand.  With these action steps, we hope to educate and facilitate conversations about toxic masculinity, domestic partner violence, and consent.

One part of the Board of Regents statement we would like to draw attention to is the Thistle Farms initiative.  In the statement, it says, “What (else) might students do? By way of example, the Thistle Farms initiative to aid battered women is under way in the current semester. The Board of Regents will match, dollar for dollar, the money raised by students in this effort.” Last semester, we pledged to raise $25,000 for Thistle Farms to allow them to sell their all-natural bug spray nationally. This initiative is an opportunity to create both unity between Greek organizations through service and intentional lasting community partnerships. Having one common goal for service allows us to work towards our vision of creating and fostering a community of inclusivity and collaboration. We hope that members can come together and host fundraising events, not just give money to the cause. We also are working hand in hand with the Office of Civic Engagement to promote many community service opportunities that are focused on collaborative partnerships working toward community-identified goals. We believe that our Thistle Farms initiative and the decision to revoke Charlie Rose’s honorary degree can both happen and even complement each other. Additionally, the statement refers to the women helped by Thistle Farms as “battered women,” a statement we feel does not accurately reflect the mission of Thistle Farms. The mission of Thistle Farms, “ is to HEAL, EMPOWER, AND EMPLOY women survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. We do this by providing safe and supportive housing, the opportunity for economic independence, and a strong community of advocates and partners. We believe that in the end, love is the most powerful force for change in the world.” We believe that we will best empower the women of Thistle Farms not by merely acknowledging the systemic circumstances that led to their oppression, but by support, empower, and heal survivors of sexual assault, trafficking, and drug addiction. By supporting Thistle Farms, we hope that their values of believing and empowering survivors will be supported on our own campus as well.

We hope that you will consider what is written in this letter, as it is something about which our community feels passionately. Additionally, we have attached statements from individual Greek organizations.

Sincerely,

Mary Allison Pritchard

ISC VP of Community Service and Education, Phi Kappa Epsilon

Yin Agbontaen

ISC President, Theta Kappa Phi

Gigi Ruppel

ISC VP of Public Records, Theta Kappa Phi

Anna Hunley

ISC VP of Rush and Intramurals, Kappa Delta Eta Epsilon

Ben Shankle

IFC VP of Rush and Intramurals, Alpha Tau Omega

Forbes Mann II, C’10

Coordinator of Fraternity and Sorority Life

Cooper Lewis

IFC President, Phi Gamma Delta

Addison Jones

IFC VP of Community Service and Education, Alpha Tau Omega

 

After discussing the issue during our most recent chapter meeting, the brothers of Lambda Chi Alpha would like to express our extreme dissatisfaction with the Board of Regents’ decision not to revoke Charlie Rose’s honorary degree. We see this decision as exemplary of the University’s consistent inability to properly deal with the issues of sexual assault and harassment on this campus. We also hope to impress upon the Board of Regents and the Vice Chancellor that this decision sends the message that the University does not stand by or support survivors of sexual assault and runs contrary to our hallowed communal ideal, perfectly encapsulated by the phrase “Ecce quam bonum”. We hope that the Board of Regents reconsider their decision, and look forward to helping build a campus community that lives up to our own ideals.

-Lambda Chi Alpha

We, women of Theta Kappa Phi, are extremely disappointed with the Board of Regents’ decision to not revoke Charlie Rose’s honorary degree. This decision sends a message to sexual assault victims on campus and also shows the world how Sewanee views sexual assault and the survivors. We believe this was an opportunity for the University to be consistent with how they say they are addressing sexual assault and join a movement that is long overdue. As women it is saddening, uncomfortable and sickening to see the issue be blatantly ignored at our own school. We sincerely hope and pray that the Board of Regents will reconsider their decision.

-Theta Kappa Phi

The women of Theta Pi Sorority strongly condemn the decision made to maintain Charlie Rose’s degree and encourage the reopening of discussion to the greater Sewanee community.

Rose’s abuse of power compromises the integrity of any group, organization, or institution that continues to praise or honor his personal merits. For the Board of Regents to claim the authority to forgive a sexual predator is to belittle the courage of those who came forward against Rose’s behavior.

The demand to revoke Rose’s degree is not a “condemnation of the individual,” but rather a condemnation of malicious actions that dehumanize and exploit women. We would like to reiterate the letter from the School of Theology that neither Sewanee nor the Episcopal Church as a whole are in the position to offer forgiveness on behalf of the individuals affected by Rose’s actions.

This decision reflects a general consensus on campus that when students speak, nothing happens. This lack of a decision has struck a grave mistrust in the institution we all love. Rose keeping his degree does not give him the opportunity to reflect and realize himself how harmful his actions truly were.

Furthermore, the lack of transparency from the administration in how this decision was made and the complete disregard for the opinion of the student body is inherently worrisome. There is no precedent for revoking a degree, but that is not a reason to uphold the degree. The University and its Board of Regents has an opportunity to decide as a community what standards we choose to use in assigning degrees and, in turn, revoking them.

Ultimately, the women of Theta Pi believe that the following questions arise in regards to the maintaining of Rose’s degree. What example does it set forth for future generations of young people, especially young men, when we preach equality amongst students and community members? What does this decision to uphold an argued symbolic degree mean for the powerful symbolism this community is founded around?

Ecce Quam Bonum is a powerful Sewanee tradition and pillar. Yet, to not revoke his degree is to negate Ecce Quam Bonum. How do we all as members of a university and institution expect to contribute to a progressive and empowering society when allowing things like this to be considered commonplace or given distinction.

Respectfully signed,

Theta Pi

We, the women of Kappa Delta Eta Epsilon, would like to express our deep frustration and disappointment with the decision of the Board of Regents decision to maintain Charlie Rose’s honorary degree from Sewanee: The University of the South.

In coming to this decision, the Board of Regents is disregarding and belittling, not only the victims of Charlie Rose, but also the many men and women on this campus who have been affected by sexual assault, sexual harassment and like acts in our community, and beyond the gates. This conclusion perpetrates the consistent attitude of our University administration to avoid difficult subjects, to act passively and reject a notion of responsibility and accountability for personal behavior. The Community Commitments outlined in our EQB Guide encourage community members and students to report behaviors that violate our principal values of respect and trust; the decision of our Board of Regents, however, perpetrates a vastly different message. Simply put, the University administration is not living out the commitment to EQB that it seemingly regards in the highest.

As our EQB guide states, “Students are expected to live with honor day and night, in the classroom and in the residence halls, on the athletic field and in social spaces, on campus and off—in short, ‘in every walk of life.’” As an organization and a university that claims to hold honor in the highest regard, we feel as if that ideal has been compromised through this decision.  If we cannot hold a member of the community to a standard of honor, we are not living by the standards of Ecce Quam Bonum.

We also stand by the letter released by the tenured professors at the School of Theology in their response to the theological arguments presented in the Board of Regents’ decision.  As institutions, neither Sewanee nor the Episcopal Church are in the position to offer forgiveness to Charlie Rose for the commission of these acts; furthermore, forgiveness cannot be given in the absence of repentance.  Is it not our duty, as members of this community that claim to live by these standards of honor, to “condemn the individual” that violates those ideals?  Is it not the duty of the Episcopal Church, as a moral authority, to address issues of moral impunity?  And is it not the duty of this institution to take a stand against the violation and exploitation of men and women in this community and the world?

As an organization, as students, as women, as community members, and as human beings, we would like to publically voice our vexation with the recent decision published by the Board of Regents. Let us strive to live honorably, both in our words and in our actions. Let us cultivate a community of trust, respect and responsibility. Let us strive to live out EQB.

Respectfully yours,

The Sisters of Kappa Delta

The two pillars of the Sewanee community lie in the commitments to not lie, cheat or steal, and to live together, as brothers and sisters, in unity. As Vice Chancellor McCardell stated in our Guide to Living in Community, “our most precious resource is our people” and “honor is an ideal and an obligation”. By upholding Charlie Rose’s honorary degree, Sewanee is not forgiving the sins of an individual, but upholding our standard of honor as one in the same with Mr. Rose’s. By upholding his actions, Sewanee is stealing a sense of safety from the women in our community, cheating it’s students of a degree worth honoring, and lying about the ideals we say we uphold. If people are our most precious resource, we should protect each brother and sister of this community accordingly. As stated by several theologians in response to Sewanee’s statement, it is not Sewanee’s responsibility to offer forgiveness on behalf of the women whom were abused. Instead, Sewanee should respond within their scope, and uphold the pillars that were promised to each of us when we committed ourselves to this institution.

-Phi Kappa Epsilon

We are deeply concerned by the Board of Regent’s refusal to revoke Mr. Rose’s degree. It is especially concerning given the importance of condemnations and symbolism to students on this campus and the eight women affected by Mr. Rose’s actions – still suffering with the indignities and injuries of sexual misconduct and abuse. We feel that this decision was in line with the problematic way in which sexual misconduct is handled on campus, and the lack of meaningful attention given to it by the benefactors of this University.

The Brothers of Gamma Sigma Phi strongly urge the Board of Regents to reconsider their decision, in order to stop Sewanee from falling on the wrong side of history, and to prove that the Board will treat any instance of sexual misconduct with clear and direct contempt – without exception.” *Approved by unanimous consent of all present brothers on February 20, 2018*

Respectfully,

The Brothers of Gamma Sigma Phi

We, the brothers of Phi Gamma Delta, Gamma Sigma Chapter, recognize a distinct difference between an indicator of proficiency and a symbolic accolade. The prior is an indisputable result of academic labor, while the latter is derived from meritorious actions, behavior, and lifetime achievement. We also extol the principles of honesty and critical thinking. With that in mind, we posit that there is a distinct and unambiguous difference between an academic degree and an honorary degree. If we are to continue to claim to be an establishment that praises truth and shrewd judgment, we cannot let matters such as Mr. Rose’s honorary degree fall by the wayside in light of recent allegations. The testimonies of eight professional women suffice to reexamine the reasons for which Mr. Rose was awarded an honorary degree in the first place. The decision to revoke the honorary degree has little to do with personally reprimanding Mr. Rose and everything to do with clarifying the priorities held by the university that awarded it in the first place. If we are to continue to define ourselves as a collective that cherishes and exemplifies the qualities of honorable manhood, then we cannot condone the University of the South’s decision to uphold Mr. Rose’s honorary degree. We cannot continue to condone dishonorable behavior, especially that which comes at the expense of others.

Respectfully,

The Brothers of Phi Gamma Delta, Gamma Sigma Chapter

The women of Alpha Delta Pi would like to voice their disapproval regarding the Board of Regents’ decision to allow Charlie Rose to maintain his honorary degree given by this institution. As a University, we hold honor to the highest standard and Charlie Rose is not an honorable or deserving person. As an organization, we believe in tolerance, honor, and a high standard of ethics that is not reflected in this decision.  His actions were harmful to multiple women, and to excuse them means to neglect our duty to support those women.  His actions are not in line with the University honor code or the motto of living together in unity. This decision sends a message that Sewanee condones sexual harassment, which reflects badly not only on Sewanee, but also on all the organizations who are a part of this community.  Alpha Delta Pi requests that the Board of Regents’ open their eyes to the detrimental effect of their decision, and then change it.

Loyally,

The Sisters of Alpha Delta Pi

We, the sisters of Alpha Tau Zeta, do not condone sexual assault. We are committed to creating a place on campus where everyone can feel comfortable and safe with those around them.

-ATZ

The members of Alpha Delta Theta condemn the Board of Regents’ decision to preserve Charlie Rose’s honorary degree. It is our duty, as stated in our constitution, to cultivate coalescence in our community, and we believe that this must be done through standing with survivors on this campus and with every other person who has been victimized through rape, sexual assault, harassment, misogyny and other forms of oppression. The University has also promised to dwell in unity, and we believe that requires the same effort. It is not our choice to offer forgiveness on behalf of the eight women victimized by Charlie Rose, it is our responsibility, however, to hold offenders accountable. This gesture, the recognition that Mr. Rose does not represent our values and the revocation of his honorary degree, is far more than a symbol. It is the long awaited first step toward properly protecting and supporting the voices and bodies of students on this campus. Alpha Delta Theta demands the Board of Regents to hear the calls to action by the entire Sewanee community, to offer us all the transparency we deserve, and to stand with survivors above standing by the status quo.

Sincerely,

Alpha Delta Theta

We, the women of Phi Sigma Theta, are extremely disappointed and outraged by the Board of Regents’ decision to not revoke Charlie Rose’s honorary degree.

By not revoking Rose’s degree, the Board of Regents is perpetuating the culture of sexual assault on Sewanee’s campus. This decision also sends a message to the eight women victimized by Rose and the victims of sexual assault/harassment on this campus that the University does not support or stand by them.

When signing the honor code we are expected to live by the University’s motto EQB “we have a responsibility to live with respect for one another and in healthy relationships. Students are expected to live with honor day and night, in the classroom and in the residence halls, on the athletic field and in social spaces, on campus and off—in short, “in every walk of life.[…] with the parallel expectation that we will not be injured, maligned, or otherwise negatively affected by the actions of others. Those who insist upon living outside the expectations of the Sewanee community will understandably be held accountable for their choices by the Honor Council, the Student Conduct Board, or other disciplinary bodies, and may in certain circumstances be removed from the Sewanee community.” If we cannot hold Rose to this same standard of honor that we as a community are expected to live by, then how can we claim unity or the motto EQB at all?

In the EQB guide Vice Chancellor McCardell also stated in a letter to the student body that, “The Sewanee experience is built on the principle of honor,[…] living with personal integrity; respecting the dignity of all; valuing freedom of thought and expression; demonstrating self-control; and developing trusting relationships. Honor is an ideal and an obligation. It suffuses our common life, around the clock and in all places.” Therefore, in order to live with honor, we cannot continue to allow such dishonorable actions to occur without offering any consequences.

Phi Sigma Theta strongly urges the Board of Regents to reconsider the decision to revoke Charlie Rose’s honorary degree. It is time for the University to speak up and stop ignoring the acts of sexual violence and to instead truly encompass the motto of EQB by striving to be a better place for the students and the people who belong to this community.

Sincerely,

The Women of Phi Sigma Theta

The Phi Society does not support the Board of Regents’ decision not to revoke Charlie Rose’s honorary degree and stands by members of Greek organizations who are speaking out.

-The Phi Society

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