The Illusion of Isolation

by Holly Fetter, ‘13

This piece focuses on a post written by Jason Lupatkin for The Stanford Review, entitled “Why You Cannot Vote for SOCC.”  (The uncensored version is here, the updated version is here, and you can read a comparison of the two versions here).

The “Duck Syndrome” metaphor isn’t just for stress and health — we should use it to talk about race, too.

Sometimes, it’s easy to pretend that we’re a bunch of differently-hued ducks, floating peacefully in a multicultural pond of joy. We have FACES during NSO, “Crossing the Line” as awkward frosh, and we’re good to go.

But then the Jason Lupatkin ducks come along, and write blog posts like this one, and remind us that our diverse world isn’t so calm after all — there’s a lot of turbulence and chaos below the surface that’s rarely exposed.

If there’s one thing I appreciate about Lupatkin’s post, it’s that he had the courage to say what he said. I’m genuinely grateful that he laid bare the sort of fear and anxiety that often goes unarticulated by students who feel limited by the multicultural, California liberal, overly-PC Stanford culture that encourages silence around issues of diversity. This attitude inhibits the intentional and productive conversations that really need to take place in order to build relationships across difference.

In days following Lupatkingate, the author was branded by many students as a sort of pariah, regarded as a radical (irony alert!) outlier whose opinions do not wholly align with the majority of well-intentioned, open-minded Stanford folk. However, I think it’s crucial that we interrogate his piece, and use it as an opportunity to move toward more positive engagement between communities of color and students who perceive themselves as outside these spaces.

I want to focus on Lupatkin’s perception of diversity and isolation. In his post, he references the supposed diversity of two IFC fraternities on campus: “That Ashton, a member of Sigma Nu, and Gallagher, the current president of Kappa Sigma, come from two extremely different fraternities on campus further cements their slate as the only one that can claim a perspective molded out of diverse experiences that best represents that of all Stanford students.”

Now, I may come from a program that is a “perversion of academic disciplines,” but I can still do some basic math. There are conflicting reports of how many Stanford students belong to fraternities and sororities, but I’ll go with the more conservative estimate — 25% of students belong to 30 different Greek organizations on campus. So that means that a mere 1.7% of the student body belongs to Kappa Sig and Sigma Nu combined. The Students of Color Coalition, on the other hand, seeks to represent 65% of the student body.

It is not immediately apparent how Mr. Lupatkin was able to come to his conclusion that Ashton and Gallagher’s joint experience with these two fraternities “best represents that of all Stanford students.” Perhaps, as The Flipside points out, he was writing some brilliant satire. But if he is in fact serious, this perspective on the supposedly universal experience of students on campus can only come from isolation — the sort of isolation that Lupatkin critiques throughout his post. He repeatedly attacks SOCC for “serv[ing] an isolated segment of the student body,” for having “special interests,” and for “creating a cycle” in which SOCC-affiliated students “continue to vote as a bloc to fund their own isolation.”

If Lupatkin really wanted to address issues of isolation on campus, he should’ve focused on the Greek system. Unlike communities of color, which are open to everyone, sororities and fraternities are, by nature, exclusive. You have to pay just to try to get in (unless you write a 500-word essay proving your inability to do so), and if you do manage to make it through the rush process, you have to pay up to $750 per year to be part of it. And while haters hate on ethnic-themed houses, in which 50% of residents are required to not be part of the community around which the house is focused, 100% of residents in Greek houses are from that organization. Not to mention the invite-only parties that are hosted for those within the Greek system — maybe once a quarter the rest of us will have the pleasure of being invited to an all-campus foam party. In contrast, community centers and ethnic VSOs are consistently hosting programming that is open to anyone and everyone, free of charge. And sometimes, there’s even free pizza.

Before I go any further, let me make two things quite clear. First, I’m not claiming that there’s an inherent divide between Greek communities and communities of color. In fact, there’s considerable overlap, as evidenced by newly-elected ASSU Exec’s experience with the Latino community on campus. There isn’t and doesn’t need to be conflict between students involved with Greek organizations and students involved with communities of color.

Moreover, this post is not meant to attack the Greek community — in fact, some of my best friends are Greek. Rather, this piece is meant to illustrate how, from each of our insular vantage points, it can appear that other communities are exclusive and self-indulgent. It’s all about perspective. I’m not affiliated with any sorority, so my perception of these organizations is that they are isolated and exclusive. I’m sure folks in Greek orgs can pushback against my previous paragraph, and that’s exactly my point. We all have blinders that prevent us from appreciating the openness of communities with which we are not familiar. We all self-segregate, and we can all make an effort to change the composition of our networks and cliques. All it takes is a willingness to venture outside our safe spaces.

But please remember that it is absolutely not the responsibility of students of color to drag you into ethnic-themed dorms and community centers. The doors are always open, and it’s on you to step through. A lot of folks will say that they’ve tried to visit these spaces, but have felt unwelcome or excluded. But why do we only notice that sort of response when it comes from places in which race is particularly salient? Do we react similarly when we walk into a Wilbur dorm and the residents there ignore or or look at us with suspicious gazes? Nope. Part of having privilege is not knowing what it feels like to walk into a space and feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. Those of us who are used to belonging everywhere we go need to adjust to the experience of feeling awkward in a community that is not centered around our identity. Embracing the discomfort that comes with entering an unfamiliar space is the key to appreciating what communities of color have to offer — I say this as a White girl in Hermanas de Stanford (a Latina empowerment group) who used to get all sweaty and weird every time she entered El Centro Chicano. And besides, imagine how non-Greek people feel coming into a housed sorority or frat to hang out, eat dinner, or sit on SOSAS panels.

We should all get acquainted with the vibrant variety of individuals and organizations that compose 65% of the Stanford community — as well as the allies who come from the other 35%. Here are 4 easy ways to enhance your appreciation of the robustness and inclusiveness of communities of color on campus:

  1. Attend an event (or two) hosted by an ethnic VSO. Check out Facebook, listservs, and community center calendars for ideas. Tag along with a friend or mobilize others to roll out with you. If you feel weird the first time, go back.
  2. We all have that friend who’s super involved in a community that we know nothing about, and yet we never take the time to ask them more about their work. Go ahead and have a conversation with that person to learn more about their experience and interests.
  3. Take a Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity class. Discuss these issues in an academic setting, and get units for it.
  4. Live in an ethnic-themed residence. Or at least hang out there.

Having a diverse student body is not an end in itself. Rather, diversity is learning from others’ experiences and perspectives, and being part of that process is one of the most unique opportunities we have at Stanford. Multicultural bliss leads to isolation and ignorance, so let’s go deeper to address the tension below the surface. Unless we confront our fears and make active changes to educate ourselves about the perspectives and experiences of those in other communities, we’ll never be able to see past the illusion of isolation.

 

Holly is a Senior majoring in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.

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7 thoughts on “The Illusion of Isolation

  1. […] her recent STATIC article, Holly Fetter ended with a powerful statement that resonated with me: “unless we confront our […]

  2. Concerned queer reader says:

    I think this article is either intellectually disingenuous or the product of lazy thinking. I expect better of you, Holly, if not of your publication.

    Challenge to the editors of static: publish something that matters.

    • JennVo says:

      In what ways is this intellectually disingenuous or lazy thinking? I think Holly made a good effort to both explore her points about inclusivity and race on-campus while also addressing concerns that a general audience (including fraternity and sorority members) might have. She made a point to say that maybe her impression that frats and sororities are isolated might not be true for those community members. And her take on the Lupatkin article is actually pretty even-handed and generous considering how inflammatory and straight up offensive the piece was.

      It’s easy to say that someone else’s words don’t matter, but what are you doing/publishing that contributes to discussions like these about race, gender, class, etc.? Holly is writing and getting her ideas out there about all these things, and if you’re going to criticize her or Static about doing it wrong, at least give constructive criticism or offer your own ideas on these topics.

    • Ilias says:

      I thought it was well thought out and insightful. If you really believe what you wrote, why don’t you utilize constructive criticism and sign your real name, coward?

    • JoLi says:

      “I don’t like your article but I’m going to act like it’s objectively bad while not justifying my case with concrete criticism.”

  3. Lee Altenberg says:

    The “multicultural pond of joy” is exactly ethos of the institution. The narrative is that there is no conflict, and all work in harmony for the greatness of success. But this is a inaccurate, and the suppression of awareness of conflict is harmful to education for leadership. Apropos, Stanford Prof. Henry Levin writes: “Overt conflict is proscribed from the typical capitalist workplace by the highly detailed division of labor and sharp delineations of hierarchical supervision and responsibility. There are latent feelings of resentment and inner conflict among individual workers in such a context, but they are rarely displayed openly. Rather, there is a substantial resignation to the allocation of tasks, the nature of work activities, pay and promotion policies, and other decisions of the firm. Even in the upper echelons of these firms, where decisions are generally made, open conflict is suppressed (see Jackall 1983).

    As long as freedom of expression is encouraged, conflicting points of view will also manifest themselves. Eventually, the suppression of disagreements will build up pressure in the group until a major conflict erupts. Often this conflict will take on a highly personal and destructive form or waste energies by making much ado about an apparently unimportant issue which has only symbolic significance.

    Thus the goal of a democratic organization should not be to suppress conflict, but to welcome it and use it productively.

  4. monahmz says:

    Reblogged this on I… over the smallest things. and commented:
    Great article on the topic of white privilege and race/ethnicity relations in the 21st century context. Y’all should check it out!

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