Washington State University is in the headlines once again, and, in true WSU Coug fashion, it is not for great reasons.
Last Monday, a video posted to Twitter spread like wildfire. The original video was taken down, but the damage had already been done.
#FIJIISLANDER2018 was the hashtag. The video? The men of Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) dancing in grass skirts, serenading women in different WSU Panhellenic sororities. Immediately, Twitter users took sides, some claiming the video was nothing more than a group of guys having some fun, but the majority of students called the fraternity's actions out for what they were: cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is where people from a group that oppressed or oppresses another group mimics or represents cultural artifacts or manners of the oppressed group in a way that expresses or reinforces psychological elements of the racist ideology inherent in the colonialist project responsible for the oppression (x).
In simpler words, cultural appropriation is mimicking and mocking other cultures.
The men of FIJI were doing exactly this — mocking and mimicking Pacific Islander community.
For WSU, a university that follows mottos like "Cougs help Cougs" and claims a key component is "building global understanding," this blatant ignorance and disrespect is not exactly the image that should be associated with the Greek community, which makes up 1/4 of the WSU student body.
The Greek community was quick to respond to this offense, issuing statements and promises to do better, to be better. The WSU Interfraternity Council released their statement, which partially read:
Their actions represent clear examples of cultural appropriation which does not align with the values of the Interfraternity Community, or Washington State University (WSU). The Interfraternity Council condemns these and all acts of cultural appropriation regardless of the intention behind them.
Which is great and all. I love to hear IFC calling FIJI out and condemning this kind of behavior. The men of FIJI do need to be educated on their cultural incompetency, and they all should apologize to the communities on campus that were harmed because of this video.
However, FIJI is not the only chapter to blame.
The entire WSU Greek Community is to blame as well.
The other IFC chapters who have performed similar serenades are to blame.
The Panhellenic chapters who have laughed and encouraged the behavior are to blame.
The Greek students who mock and disregard the UGC and NPHC communities are to blame.
The Greek students who refuse to acknowledge their privilege in being white, straight, able-bodied, male, Christian — they are to blame.
I was in a Greek chapter for almost three years. I was to blame. I laughed when the boys came and did ridiculous dances and sang to us. I did not call anyone out for wearing grass skirts. I did not find the harm in mimicking other cultures. I saw the humor, I enjoyed it, I moved on. I realize my wrongs, and I am glad I am in a place where I can now see all the damage my own complacency wrought.
Not every chapter is bad, and not every Greek member is in it for popularity or the party scene. I know amazing men and women in chapters who complete hours and hours of community service, who donate time and money to wonderful philanthropies, who are leaders in the community, who are going to go on to do amazing, beautiful, life-changing things.
But I also know the culture and the community of the WSU Greek system is incredibly toxic. It is blind. The system rewards ignorance with "top" status, with more funds, with a reputation on and off campus. The nightlife rewards it with exclusive parties and special benefits. The leadership refuses to report hazing, sexual assault, students in crisis. It's a mind game, one that ends with kids dropping out of college and dying.
This isn't just the WSU Greek community, it is all the chapters across the U.S. That's a whole other problem in itself.
Maybe this incident with FIJI is the wake-up call the WSU Greek community needs to change. I can think positively and hope this is the final straw. But I am also not naive enough to think this is where the conversation ends and that all will get better from here.
The WSU Greek community does not get to point the finger at FIJI, make an example of them, and carry on with normal operations as if nothing happened. That's what they did with DU. It's what they did with AKL. It's what they do with every single chapter who has the "misfortune" of taking the fall for everyone else's mistakes.
Nothing has changed. Who's next?
You can do better, Cougs.
Image Credit: Instagram // @fijiwsu