Activism, especially at Yale, exists in a sort of impregnable space. You can’t critique the motives of an activist, because by nature, they must be noble. In many ways, they are. Activism is at the core of our community’s growth. It’s influenced every member of this campus over the past few years, shaping the way we think about ourselves, our friends and our residential colleges. When done for the wrong reasons, however, it threatens to obscure the truth. At a school like ours, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that the actual issues sometimes play second fiddle to individual ulterior motives.
Most recently, visible campus activism has pivoted around the inclusion of women in fraternities. Perhaps this is a noble aim. Perhaps it’s misplaced agitation. There is no doubt that there is a significant gender imbalance in social spaces on campus. It’s appalling that a woman going to High Street on Friday night cannot so much as pour her own drink.
But is this really a fraternity issue?
The rush to pressure fraternities into becoming multigender spaces has overlooked a key element of our campus’ gender divide: sororities. The National Panhellenic Conference, which governs the United States’ 26 major sororities, prohibits sisters from drinking alcohol in sorority houses — let alone serving it. The Greek issue does not stem only from fraternities, who are constrained by liability regulations that prohibit nonbrothers from serving alcohol. The fact that women can’t pour a drink has less to do with them being women and more to do with the assigned responsibilities of the fraternity members. Were sororities allowed to throw parties, I expect sisters would be manning the kegs. But sororities are stuck in archaic attitudes toward drinking, parties and gender.
Let’s be honest — it’s not sexy, attention-provoking or headline-grabbing to call up your local Pi Phi representative and lobby for change. It’s infinitely more glamorous — and perhaps more self-serving — to form a group that takes on the Big Bad Frats. If nobly rectifying years of systemic dysfunction in gendered partying at Yale is the goal, why not talk about the sororities? Instead, fraternities are an easy enough punching bag — hard to miss and not swinging back.
This is not to knock the efforts of Engender and the women who rushed independently of the group. There’s no doubt that one of the necessary tools of activism is attention. A group like Engender has done our campus a service by forcing us to think critically about the issues at hand. But when the movement fails to so much mention the role of sororities, we must question its motives, as distasteful as that may seem. And creating a formal Yale group that has had no action on campus prior to organizing women into a rush coalition, and still has no website, mission statement or clearly publicized points of contact? Smells like a law school application.
Call me a cynic, but I don’t think misguided activism is limited to Greek life on our campus. We prioritize public platforms over palpable progress. Why contribute to political change in our city — by interning for one of the alders, perhaps — when we can bloviate about it in the Yale Political Union? Why join the Yale Refugee Project and help a local family settle in when we can garner 400 likes on Facebook with an anti-Trump status? Is an eco-friendly movement really legitimate unless students are arrested on the steps of Beinecke Plaza?
Outspoken activism has its place and can be extremely effective in getting people talking. It’s important not to draw blanket statements and to recognize that many — hopefully most — are speaking out for the right reasons. But when activism overshadows the stated goals and places unfair accountability on individual actors, it does more harm than good. In our thirst for attention, many of us have forgotten the power of quieter activism that may not generate page clicks or Facebook likes but helps promote the change that we are purportedly fighting for.
Act toward your values rather than preach about them. And when you fight for the things that matter to you, maybe leave them off your resume.
Mrinal Kumar is a junior in Silliman College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. He is a brother of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. Contact him at email@example.com .