Another fraternity has gotten itself into some trouble, and since this one was pretty close to home, it’s been all over my newsfeed. Last week, Penn State suspended its chapter of Kappa Delta Rho, after it was discovered that the frat had a secret Facebook group which publicized photos of, amongst other things, drug transactions and unconscious women. People seem pretty outraged (though perhaps not entirely shocked) by this, both the fact that it happened in the first place, and that it happened so brazenly.
Adding fuel to the media’s fire, one KDR member somewhat infamously (and anonymously) gave a statement defending his fraternity, saying:
It is shameful to see the self-righteousness that has sprung from the woodworks in response to the alleged Penn State fraternity “scandal.” Here’s a quick reality check: everyone — from Bill Clinton to your grandfather to every Greek organization in the nation does the same old stuff, just as they have been for the entirety of human history. That’s where that lil’ old quip, don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house, comes from. And believe me, we all live in a glass house. Thus it is laughably pathetic to see the media spring on an occasional incident such as this, especially a media complicit in overturning the same sexual mores and moral standards that for millennia had at least to some extent curbed outright licentiousness. The fire of indignant, misplaced self-righteousness that looks to ruin people’s lives and unjustly ruin reputations is the abuse and violation that should be at the center of discussion, not the humorous, albeit possibly misguided, antics of a bunch of college kids.
What an ass, right?
When I first read this, I had the same reaction that I’m sure many other decent people had: Just because everyone else does something terrible does not make it okay. “Boys will be boys” is never a legitimate excuse for (what appears to be) sexual assault. Pulling the “Bill Clinton” card is sooooo 1998. Also – and I know this sounds terrible – I couldn’t help but be reminded of that time just a few years ago after the Sandusky conviction when PSU students were so unwavering in their support of Joe Paterno and the Penn State football program.
Eventually that initial outrage subsided, and I very reluctantly remembered something else. I recently revisited Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Revelation.” For those of you who haven’t read it, here it is. Go read it and come back when you’re done.
The central character of this story is Mrs. Turpin, a racist, classist, hypocritical, self-righteous wench, and “Revelation” simply details an afternoon in her life (culminating with a profound and prophetic vision, but that’s not important here). It’s almost physically painful to read, from the gratuitous use of racial slurs, to O’Connor’s grotesque descriptions of her characters. But the worst (and best) part of it all is the extremely unsettling feeling that I, the reader, who knows better than to think most of the things that cross Mrs. Turpin’s mind, am ultimately no better than her. I can condemn her as much as I’d like, but at the end of the day, I’m just casting the first stone.
Ugh. I hate when that happens.
But back to Kappa Delta Rho. Their anonymous defender was keen to drop an important phrase, calling the media and KDR’s critics “self righteous.” That phrase can be an annoying conversation-stopper that gets in the way of progress, but that’s not to say that it shouldn’t give us pause.
Let’s be clear: what those members of Kappa Delta Rho appeared to do is abominable. If stuff like that is happening in frats everywhere, then we have a huge problem and we need to work hard to stop it. But, when I close my laptop and my outrage subsides, when I draw away and let myself be really honest, I need to wonder if I am ultimately any more righteous than a frat boy. Or “white trash.” Or a poor laborer. Or even a racist.
That vocal frat boy probably said what he said because it’s Lent, and this is the time of year when we’re meant to acknowledge just how messed up this world is, and how prevalent abuse and exploitation really are. This is the time of year when we’re supposed to look at this world’s deep brokenness and consider our part in it. This is the time of year when we are reminded of just how much we need grace.
So, way to go anonymous frat boy – you, like Flannery O’Conner, have called us out in a very Lenten way.