It’s back-to-school time for America’s colleges, which means another tiresome year of enduring the howls of outrage and cries of despair when someone, somewhere, somehow does something that this aggrieved group or another finds fault with.
Like night follows day or fall follows summer or Laurel follows Hardy, The Ivory Tower Outrage Brigades are once again picking up the cudgel of political correctness and are salivating at the thought of beating some poor miscreant over the head with it.
In this case at Old Dominion College, the party started even before classes began. The Eta Chi chapter of the Sigma Nu fraternity decided to live up to the reputation of frat boys everywhere and hung some banners welcoming freshmen girls to the school.
“Rowdy and Fun. Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time.”
“Freshman daughter drop off.”
“Go ahead and drop off mom too.”
These banners are no doubt in bad taste. And if I had a freshman daughter attending ODU, I might have seriously considered getting out of the car and tearing the banners down myself.
But observe the over-the-top, hysterical reaction.
Now the Sigma Nu Fraternity has suspended the Eta Chi Chapter at ODU pending an investigation into the banners.
Sigma Nu released a message stating their displeasure with the banners saying they condemn the “derogatory and demeaning language used on the banners.”
“Such language has no place in our Fraternity or within any caring community, such as that of ODU. Any Fraternity member found to be responsible for this reprehensible display will be held accountable by the Fraternity,” said Brad Beacham, Sigma Nu Fraternity’s Executive Director in a statement.
ODU officials say they believe the people who live at the private residents are students and say they are investigating. The University sent this statement in full:
“Messages like the ones displayed yesterday by a few students on the balcony of their private residence are not and will not be tolerated. The moment University staff became aware of these banners, they worked to have them removed. At ODU, we foster a community of respect and dignity and these messages sickened us. They are not representative of our 3,000 faculty and staff, 25,000 students and our 130,000 alumni.
Ours is a community that works actively to promote bystander intervention and takes a stand denouncing violence against women. The “It’s on Us” video is just one example of ODU students’ leadership on this topic.
In addition, the University ensures all students receive education on the prevention of sexual harassment and relationship violence.
Any student found to have violated the code of conduct will be subject to disciplinary action.”
Note first that the banners were hung in front of private residences where officials “believe” students live. And the Sigma Nu frat didn’t even wait to find out who was at fault. They pulled the plug on the chapter without even investigating.
The statement from the Student Government Association was even more bizarre:
“An incident occurred this weekend that does not reflect the University’s commitment to the prevention of Sexual Assault and Dating Violence. Not only do these actions taken by a few individuals undermine the countless efforts at Old Dominion University to prevent sexual assault, they are also unwelcoming, offensive, and unacceptable,” said Chris Ndiritu, President of the Student Government Association.
You have to be out of your mind to believe that the banner-hangers had sexual assault or dating violence in mind when they put them up. They may be insensitive louts, but why assume they’re criminals?
Crazy doesn’t explain the use of words like “offensive,” sickened,” “outraged,” or any other adjective describing an emotion or state of mind. Words have specific meaning. When the president writes that he is “outraged” by the banners, what is he outraged about? What was written on the banners that would elicit such an overpowering response? When the university claims to be “sickened” by the banners, perhaps they could describe the symptoms. Has anyone become physically ill — nausea, headache?
The point is that the words are used not to communicate unhappiness with the banners, but as a means to exercise power — the power of disapproval and disapprobation. The more hysterical the rhetoric, the more powerful the disapprovers become. So what should have been a minor case of frat boys thinking they’re hilarious by showing how misogynistic they can be morphs into threatening rape and violence.
There is no halfway when it comes to disapproval. There is no nuance, no context, no way to admit misunderstanding. The absolute worst possible slant on any incident must be part of the narrative. Hence, there will no doubt be more suspensions as the university investigates the case of the missing strawberries.
Inadvertently, the president revealed why such over-the-top rhetoric is harmful:
A young lady I talked to earlier today courageously described the true meaning of the hurt this caused. She thought seriously about going back home.
But she was heartened, she explained, when she saw how fellow students were reacting to this incident on social media. She realized this callous and senseless act did not reflect the Old Dominion she has come to love.
This may be the first time in history that thinking of running away is considered acting “courageously.” But what all this hysteria does — from the top on down — is impress on impressionable young people the notion that it’s perfectly alright to turn vulgarity and insensitivity into threats of criminal conduct. Words have consequences — something the Outrage Brigades on campus are well aware of.