Op-Ed: Moving from Discourse to Conversation

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The first time I was told I was going to hell, I was nine.

You see, back home, I am an ethnic (or racial, depending on who you ask) minority.  I was one of 5 Jewish kids in my 1300-person high school, and, once people knew, they didn’t let me forget it.  I was harassed pretty severely my freshman year of high school, to the point that I considered transferring.  I probably would have, if a friend had not stepped in and put an end to it.

It’s exhausting to be reminded, again and again, that you’re different.  If you’ve been constantly told that you don’t fit in, or had your differences pointed out to you (or to others) in public, humiliating ways, you would be angry, and rightfully so. And I can see how that would be especially disillusioning if you came here expecting a place where you could be freed of it.

But at the same time, I think that as a community we have to step back and examine all the assumptions we came in with.  I’ll start. I wasn’t aware how I had imported my own assumptions into Swarthmore (where, as you may have noticed, I am no longer a minority in any sense of the word) until a talk on the compatibility of religion and science last spring.  After the talk, because I disagreed with many members of the Swarthmore Christian Fellowship (SCF) community, I was invited to attend an SCF meeting the following Sunday to continue the discussion.

I hesitated, then declined.

Now, it is important to clarify that my refusal was not based on distrust of the motives of any member of SCF.  I greatly admire and respect the members who invited me, and I have no doubt that my religious views would be respected in turn.  So why did I feel so uncomfortable at the prospect of attending a Christian-defined meeting? In my experience, invitations to Christian events were often issued with the subtext ‘Let me show you the error of your ways’. After 18 years of having my ‘other’-ness rubbed in my face, I am incredibly uncomfortable in formalized Christian settings. In a sense, I was projecting onto SCF a set of preformed assumptions that were associated with a group that was similar, but not the same.

And this, I think, is part of what has been going on in the dispute over the referendum. Accusations have been irresponsibly thrown around, to the point that everyone has been backed into a corner.  Now, it is necessary to take a step back.  The vote is in, and Greek life is going to be a part of our campus.  There are some valid issues that have been raised by this discussion.  Instances of sexual assault on campus must be addressed by the administration, the fraternities, and the student body. This is a very difficult issue, and dealing with it will take a lot more work than meetings and workshops. But that’s a conversation for a different article.

I want to talk about the tone. There is very little willingness on either side to sit down and seriously think about a) the assumptions that have been made by both parties and b) the tone with which these assumptions are conveyed.  Both sides succumbed to the temptation of responding only to the loudest and most extreme voices of the opposition, (especially when those voices made arguments that were personally offensive) at the expense of addressing very real, very important points that were being made. There has been an intense unwillingness to step back and consider the personal experiences and motivations that led to the opposition in the first place.  There are valid reasons for taking issue with Greek life, just as there are valid reasons for belonging to a fraternity. We go through our days knowing very little about the people around us, and yet we constantly project knowledge, motivations, intentions, and ideas onto them.

Is there a way to fix this? One part of the answer is community meetings, which are already taking place.  These are necessary and will be constructive if approached with an open mind.  But it is conversations between individuals—not meetings between members of both parties—will make the greatest difference.  This must be left up to the student body.  It is time, now, for members of each side to reach out and talk one on one, in order to give each other the chance to really explain the nuances of their stances.

Which brings me back to my own story. To this day I cannot get past that discomfort, even though the SCF has been nothing but kind and welcoming. If I cannot get past my own discomfort in the presence of a community that has been nothing but respectful of my beliefs and feelings, how can we expect those who have had genuinely awful experiences with fraternities in the past to just ‘get over it’?  That delegitimizes their feelings and reduces their concerns to the level of mine; projecting.  At the same time, members of the opposition cannot broadly paint fraternities at Swarthmore with the same set of associations that they have with Greek culture in other contexts.  This is hurtful, unfair, potentially libelous, and counterproductive way to deal with the very real issues of sexual assault, homophobia, and marginalization on campus. Like it or not, to effectively deal with these issues, all of us—fraternities, sorority, opposition, the larger student body, and the administration—will need to work together.

I still have conversations with my SCF friends, but because I feel uncomfortable in a Christian setting, they take place in neutral places like McCabe or Sharples. To this day, we still disagree on a number of issues.  But our disagreements are understood in a context of mutual respect. In the same way, I ask you, my peers, not only to reach out and facilitate one-on-one discussions, but also to approach such conversations with respect and give each other the benefit of the doubt when reacting to their concerns and motivations.

In fact, I would like to start that process right now. I have not conveyed everything that I want to convey; that would be completely impossible outside of a real conversation. But I am asking you to give me the benefit of the doubt and to assume that my intentions are good. If you want to point out a place that I used language you find questionable, if you feel I have made too many assumptions, or if you disagree with what I have said, or would like me to clarify, I am reachable in person or by email, and we have a comment section for that very purpose. But respect me, as well as other readers, enough to use your name. I think the time has come for all of us to own our words.

Op-Ed submitted by  Eve DiMagno ’15


  1. I thought this was a very good and honest editorial that most of the campus needs to read. I have shared similar concerns, and I am proud of you for writing what many of us have been thinking for weeks. I do however, have issue with the statement, “… members of the opposition cannot broadly paint fraternities at Swarthmore with the same set of associations that they have with Greek culture in other contexts.” This implies that the opposition to Greek Life have been basing their opinions on Greek Life as a whole, which for the most part is untrue. Their reasons for disapproving of the fraternities stem from issues on Swarthmore’s campus. I obviously mean no offense towards you in saying this, I just believe that we as a community need to accept that experiences involving of rape culture, misogyny, and various other forms of intolerance have been reported on our campus. This is a serious issue that we as a community need to full-heartedly accept to move forward and ensure that it changes. However, the tone with which we approach these sensitive issues (from both sides) is in great need of change, and I once again thank you for sharing.

    • Hey Peter,

      Thanks! I actually agree with you…I was a little bit uncomfortable with that line, because that in and of itself is a generalization. I am fully aware that many of the sentiments directed against the fraternities are based on events that have actually occurred (see the article above mine “In Search of a Survivor Identity: Response to the Referendum”, which I think is excellent). I think that the stories that have been shared by survivors are incredibly brave and that their concerns must be addressed in a serious manner.

      But the argument that Greek life is inherently bad, regardless of who actually chooses to belong to these organizations, has been floated many, many times. I think that this is disrespectful to members of the fraternities who have done nothing wrong. But even worse, it is counterproductive. How can you expect a group of people you have just labeled as ‘rapists’ (or accused of harboring rapists) to want to work with you? There are something like 40 brothers in each fraternity. Even if you’re right that there are, say, 5 rapists in the frats, that’s 35 people who have just been slandered. That means that you’ve just alienated 35 potential allies.

      That said, I don’t think that all the members of the fraternities have necessarily been conducting themselves in a manner that lends itself to open discussion. There have been some disturbing things said about the fraternity opposition, especially personal attacks on character and a tone of ‘if you feel uncomfortable, don’t go’. This issue is a lot more complicated than that, and onus is on the fraternity brothers to make it a point to address these concerns, because, as you said, they are very valid responses that stem from real situations and experiences.

      • I agree with everything you said except for the 35 innocent people. The problem with the rape culture at the fraternities is that they help their fellow brothers to commit sexual assault or they just keep quiet about it. I have personally talked to several fraternity brothers who, when I mention someone committing sexual assault or using inappropriate slurs, say, “Yeah he’s done some shit,” or “We’re working on it.” In the end, nothing happens. The “5 rapists” are enabled and protected by a good percentage of their brothers, which is why I would hesitate to call them innocent. This in essence is where the frustration with the Greek Life is coming from. Not solely the crimes committed, but the response to these crimes and the lack of appropriate responses.

        • Again, I want to go back to what I said about being effective. Is it more important to be right, or is it more important to accomplish your goals? If stopping sexual assault is really the endgame, is accusing the fraternities of engaging in rape culture all over social media really going to get you anywhere? All that does is close down the discussion, and makes people who truly are uninvolved and have good intentions distrust you.

          I also want to say that I think the term ‘rape culture’ has been badly defined in this whole controversy. It means something very different to me than I’m sure it means to you. It may seem trivial to talk about definitions, but if I think you mean one thing when you actually mean another, we will never agree on anything.

          • Hey Eve –

            I disagree that the ends should justify the means with regards to winning friends/allies. If allies will only listen to you when you are kind and don’t tell them the hard truth, they aren’t really allies at all.

            I understand that it hurts to be called out. But it is important to look past that initial shock/need to prove the caller wrong and learn.

            I remember making a comment in the SQU meeting that erased a someone’s identity and experience. I was discussing sexual assault on women, and in a moment of anger he yelled that queer men were assaulted at the same rate. I was shocked he had raised his voice, and was about to backtrack, and then I realized I wasn’t the person that mattered in that moment. I had done something wrong, and it was awkward and painful to admit, but I had to do so. I apologized in person. I followed up on Facebook, acknowledging that I had been wrong and promising to be better. We had a conversation, I admitted wrongdoing after he called me out, and now I won’t make the mistake again. If I had dismissed his concerns because he raised his voice or was coarse, I would still be erasing survivor’s experiences instead of helping the community.’ If he hadn’t called me out for fear of alienating me, I would still be making the harmful mistake.

            I don’t mean to brag about how open-minded and talented at discourse I am. I just want to point out that, as allies, fraternity brothers and the community as a whole needs to care as much about wrongdoing as they do about being called out on wrongdoing.

        • And, again, I do want to point out that the issue of response to reports of rape and sexual assault is important, but should perhaps be addressed in a different editorial.

    • I think what Eve is advocating is hard work. It involves investing in people, sacrificing your time, rearranging your preconceptions, being patience, and having an abundance of grace. There is no quick fix, no sweeping policy changes that suddenly make it easier to change a culture that is ingrained in individuals as much as it is a part of the community. So let’s try not to belittle the reminder of values, once we see them manifesting amongst ourselves through the way we discourse and take subsequent action, then we’ll know that we’ve all actually heard it.

  2. “We go through our days knowing very little about the people around us, and yet we constantly project knowledge, motivations, intentions, and ideas onto them.”

    Thank you so much for this article. How refreshing. Thank you.

  3. Splendid article. I greatly appreciate the realist approach to issue resolution. Swarthmore can definitely use more of that.

    Allison, if the allies actually help reduce/eliminate sexual assault, I’d say that being nice would actually be worth it. You don’t always have to love your allies but winning the fight against a terrible evil is far more important than the “shoulds” of motivating your coalition.

    • Allison, I’ll just respond here because it won’t let me reply to your comment.

      The first thing I want to say is that I do think that what you did is exactly what I am advocating doing in my editorial. When someone reacts in a way that surprises us, instead of shutting down we should explore it and ask, in a respectful manner, why they feel that way. Usually, as it was in the case you presented, it is an entirely valid emotional or factually-based experience. What is important is that, after you were ‘called out’ and you apologized, BOTH of you participated in a conversation afterward. And I’d be curious to know: did you discuss why you made that assumption in the first place? Because I think that the reasons for making assumptions that are offensive are often very complicated, and should also be discussed. But regardless, you BOTH did the right thing: you in apologizing, him in accepting your apology as valid, and both of you participating in a conversation about it.

      I do take issue with equating of my call for respect with a call for ‘being nice’. These are not the same thing. I am not saying that accusations should not be made, because that is ‘not nice’. I am saying that, should someone feel that an accusation must be made, it should be made in a way that allows room for nuance and broader action. Now, to qualify this statement, we are in many cases talking about sexual assault and homophobia. If a crime has been committed, it must be dealt with as such, regardless of ‘niceness’. As I said, that’s a different article.

      The fraternities, as institutions, have not done a good job at addressing these issues and respecting those who do come forward. They have been called out, and they have been largely unwilling to do what you did, which is apologize, attempt to understand where the opposition is coming from, and seriously address these issues. I do want to say that I greatly respect the brothers who have made serious attempts to figure this out, but not nearly enough have done so.

      However. Anonymously writing ‘fraternities promote rape culture’ on the sidewalk is not how we should ‘call out’ the frats. Sure, it might be right, in general. It might even be right in our immediate situation. But this is an ineffective way to get the message across, because it immediately oversimplifies a very complicated issue in a way that turns potentially influential allies against you. In this case, among others, I think we as a community have sacrificed being right for getting things done.

  4. “But respect me, as well as other readers, enough to use your name. I think the time has come for all of us to own our words.”

  5. Great article!
    Sometimes, we think the problem with the argument is the logic behind it, or the consequences of what is being argued, or the ideas themselves. Seldom do we remember that we must look at the assumptions that hold the arguments together. One who does not question assumptions is one who does not question oneself.

    • Please refrain from making crude “jokes” (I put the word jokes in quotation marks because I truly hope that isn’t your definition of funny) regarding rape. People have extreme, negative reactions to experiences associated with that word, and you poking fun at it in such a relaxed way is disconcerting, disrespectful, and plain rude.

  6. Hey rape attic,

    It’s not about stats bro. What matters is the win column. You could go 12-14 on a night and shoot lights out but it doesn’t matter if your teammates don’t back you up. That’s what I have. I have teammates willing to put their asses on the line every weekend for the good of the squad. I respect you for being a star on a shitty team but let’s see who’s still playing in the postseason.

    I wish you luck in the all conference voting. I’ll be playing on championship Sunday and showing off my championship ring. Lets see what the stats look like after that.

  7. I say, I say, not again! This thread reminds me of the last one with all of the trolls, I say goddam. Lookit here son, I say son, did ya see that hawk after those hens? He scared ’em! That Rhode Island Red turned white. Then blue. Rhode Island. Red, white, and blue. That’s a joke, son. A flag waver. You’re built, I say, you’re built too low. The fast ones go over your head. Ya got a hole in your glove. I keep pitchin’ ’em and you keep missin’ ’em. Ya gotta keep your eye on the ball. Eye. Ball. I almost had a gag, son. Joke, that is. This certainly isn’t a forum for nonsense, and not for innapropriate jokes neither.

  8. Look, DG, I understand and respect that you have a policy against censoring/moderating comments, but these posts by “rape tunnel” and “rape attic” are in such appallingly bad taste, don’t contribute at all to the conversation, and are so likely to be triggering to survivors (I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been struggling in the past few weeks) that I genuinely don’t see why you can’t remove them.

  9. c’mon guys (rt & ra); i’m hungry, i’m thirsty, i’ve got a hankering that cannot be quelled… let these snaggle tooth fangs tear in the succulence of saturday night, hold no bars, and let us feast so that the floorboards write songs of the night’s deliciousness umyumyumyum

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