Phi Delta Theta’s Confederate Heritage

Phi Delta ThetaI pledged a fraternity in college and did a number of stupid things that to this day surprise me as to the level of irresponsibility achieved. Such occurrences are inevitable when you put a bunch of young men together in a house away from home. But this story out of the University of Pennsylvania ought not to be brushed off as simply one of those moments of youthful exuberance and irresponsibility.

Penn’s chapter of Phi Delta Theta should be forced by the administration and their fraternity’s national organization to explain why their Christmas card includes a black blow-up sex doll and photographs of Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart in the background. It is no accident that these photographs were included. Exactly what message was intended by this organization? I want to see some responsibility taken by this fraternity that goes beyond the standard apology.

This fraternity ought to be suspended until it offers an explanation.

44 comments… add one
  • Brad Dec 19, 2014 @ 11:10

    Hello? It’s a fraternity. They do stupid stuff. Not that I’m sticking up for frats (particularly as I never joined one) but that’s the nature of the beast. I mean, really, what did you expect? I wouldn’t make any more out of it than that.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 19, 2014 @ 11:12

      Perhaps we should apply this explanation to other recent problems on college campuses. I have no idea why we are so willing to fall back on this explanation.

      • Brad Dec 19, 2014 @ 11:39

        Because many of us/some of us do/did things in college that don’t look too smart years later. I have several stories!

        • Kevin Levin Dec 19, 2014 @ 11:52

          I do as well, but I fail to see how this absolves individuals and groups of responsibility.

          • Brad Dec 19, 2014 @ 12:37

            Agreed. Some of the pranks I did in college certainly didn’t absolve me of responsiblility, although they were childish — and fun!

            • Bryan Cheeseboro Jan 28, 2015 @ 9:35

              “Childish and fun” is fine but growing up is realizing everybody else might not find your joke funny. Besides that, I thought college was a place to grow to adulthood and prepare for the responsibility of a career.

              When I was in college, one of the frats at my school decided to hold some kind of “exorcism-” I remember seeing them in long, black hooded robes, leading a coffin into their frat house by candlelight. After this, the plan was to drink beer and screw around (pretty much the plan after everything else they did, BTW). But as it turned out, some students from a foreign country, where apparently exorcisms are the real deal, got kind of freaked out by what they saw. I’m not saying the frat brothers can’t have any fun… but I am saying that we do need to realize everyone doesn’t have the same sense of humor we do.

              Most of the colleges in this country are majority white and, demographically speaking, are perhaps even more white than the country as a whole. As a black man, I know I would be concerned if I found out somebody on my campus did something like what these guys did. And I don’t think drunkeness and/or childishness would be enough to excuse their behavior.

  • Marian Latimer Dec 17, 2014 @ 20:19

    My first thought upon seeing this was this had to be Michigan State or University of Wisconsin because of the fish. Don’t ask why. My second thought was, thank heavens I was too busy to even think about a sorority when I was in college. Thirdly, they should be thrashed for their jammies and pink cowboy hat, poor fashion choices, fellas, but I’m no cover model either.

    If I were a young female student, on that campus, I doubt I’d enter that house alone or without a body condom.

    Finally, what Pat and Meg said.

    • Marian Latimer Dec 19, 2014 @ 21:24

      I have to reply to myself in that I left Ohio State out and to agree with Kevin’s statement about the issue of rape on campuses these days. You mentioned the notorious monologue from “Newsroom” recently, Kevin, and just a few weeks ago, that show touched upon the rape subject and hit it, unfortunately dead on.

      And on a lighter note, it has also just come to my attention that it is customary to pee on the statue of John Harvard at the university bearing his name, so I guess hijinks are everywhere. Sigh. I must have been a real stick in the mud while I was at Michigan. LOL.

  • Rob Dec 17, 2014 @ 18:35

    Kevin – I am late to this discussion, but the only issue I see here is the blow up doll. That is in poor taste. As for Lee and Stuart on the wall, I am at a loss for why that would be an issue? At my fraternity (and you are correct, what we all did as young people in college is amazing we survive today!) we had framed images of Lee, Washington, Lincoln and a few other historic figures. I don’t think just because they are Confederate leaders should draw the ire of anyone. I can not condone the blow up doll…that is just stupid. But I don’t think we should try to make too much of the Lee and Stuart images….you are giving WAY more thought to it than I think these young “men” did. Sometimes there just isn’t a smoking gun

    • John Betts Dec 20, 2014 @ 12:27

      All I can say is that I deny everything from my youth in the absence of photographic or video evidence – and thank God every day that those years were before the Age of the Internet! 🙂

    • Alex Jan 28, 2015 @ 4:05

      Very much in agreement. The blow-up doll is tasteless, and shouldn’t have been included if this card was intended for broad dissemination outside their narrow circle of friends. That said, I think the “race” of the doll is incidental and this was blown way out of proportion due to heightened tensions stemming from other entirely unrelated events weighing on peoples’ minds.

      I doubt any of the students were consciously aware of the pictures. After a certain point you just filter them out along with all the other background noise. This room is obviously the library slash study. The books look old. Maybe the pictures are too, left by an alumni or something. If I had to guess why those two gentlemen are on display, either someone was a civil war history buff like the OP here or someone thought the generals exemplified the traditional conception of a southern gentleman to which the fraternity members might strive to emulate (in manners, honor, virtue, loyalty, whatever else the fraternity holds dear).

      Thoughtlessness is a problem here, true. But malicious intent? That’s really grasping at straws. Honestly, I think the furore over this has generated more consternation and offense than the picture itself had it not been shunted into the media spotlight. If someone came across it and was offended they could have communicated directly with the fraternity to make them aware of how it was received. All the hyperbolic vitriol I’ve seen from interest groups and self-proclaimed pundits is just grandstanding to draw attention to themselves, pure and simple.

      • Kevin Levin Jan 28, 2015 @ 4:43

        All the hyperbolic vitriol I’ve seen from interest groups and self-proclaimed pundits is just grandstanding to draw attention to themselves, pure and simple.

        This certainly hasn’t prevented you from making the effort to agree here or disagree there re: this issue. I always love the commenters who come here with the attitude that they bring a dispassionate objectivity to a story.

        • Alex Jan 28, 2015 @ 5:48

          To be clear, I was referring to the student bodies voicing the initial complaints and certain loudly indignant online commentators (Huffington Post blogger comes to mind). Not everyone who simply raises the issue for discussion as was done here.

          And I never claimed to be fully impartial. I have issues with *ubiquitous* vilification of the greek system where the overarching narrative doesn’t accord with my own experiences, or reflect the diversity of the sytem (the asshats get all the attention while the decent upstanding groups are at best overlooked, or more commonly lumped in with the former). I don’t begrudge others having their own emotional reaction to this situation and it informing their analysis.

          I just don’t feel that working up a media frenzy is a useful or proportionate reaction; and even if I’m wrong and this particular incident should be prominently featured in public discourse I still hold that some of the initial complainants were unnecessarily hyperbolic and seeking more to benefit from the attention they could derive more so than any productive outcome.

          • Kevin Levin Jan 28, 2015 @ 5:54

            The media works up every little thing these days. I offered my thoughts and readers can agree or disagree.

            • Alex Jan 28, 2015 @ 21:20

              Just to be clear, the “hyperbolic vitriol” comment and associated sentiments are not directed at you. Looking back I can see how it might be interpreted that way. I should have limited my remarks to expressing disagreement with your assessment. The added commentary should’ve been posted on sites I actually took issue with, and left out of here.

  • Kevin Levin Dec 17, 2014 @ 11:55

    In addition, I find this to be in incredibly poor taste given the problem of rape on college campuses.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Dec 17, 2014 @ 11:24

    A) What’s with the guy with the fish?
    B) If the blow up doll was white, red, or yellow (or green for that matter) would it so controversial?
    C) The Stuart and Lee photos are interesting, but I wouldn’t link them to the doll. I’m not so sure this crowd is that clever. But maybe they are.
    D) I’d say it is all in bad taste, but then lots of things done in life are.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 17, 2014 @ 11:45

      I am curious as to what people’s reaction would be if this had taken place at the University of Mississippi.

      • Eric A. Jacobson Dec 17, 2014 @ 13:39

        If this had happened at Ole Miss I don’t think the reaction would be much different. But I think between the pajamas, finger symbols, fish, jerseys, funny hats, and, dare I say the doll, you have some evidence of a group that thought something was funny when it wasn’t.

        Now as to the pics of Lee and Stuart: do we know what sort of room this image was taken in? By the looks of the books, those pics might have been there all along and not “staged,” if you will, for this photo. But then maybe they were. If so, that would just be an additional level of poor or bad taste.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 17, 2014 @ 13:44

          I find it hard to believe that photographs of Lee and Stuart just happened to be displayed in a fraternity house at the University of Pennsylvania. That said, you may be right.

          Here is my bigger problem with just dismissing this as just another stupid fraternity moment. Every one of these kids likely took AP American History in high school. They learned about the American Civil War. I am willing to bet that at least one of these students took a class that covers the Civil War era and race with Stephanie McCurry or Stephen Hahn. These are not the people you see on college campus interviews of clueless students.

      • Hugh Lawson Jan 26, 2015 @ 5:44

        Insightful question, Kevin. One way would be to frame the story as another instance of “the South” (or Mississippi) chained to its past , or perhaps “strugggling with the burden of the past.” [add Faulkner quote here.] This is a pretty common trope.

        Elsewhere in the US such events may appear to be a sort of random froth, that doesn’t reflect the American character.

  • Meg Dec 17, 2014 @ 11:15

    Haven’t fraternities and sororities outlived their usefulness?

  • John Betts Dec 17, 2014 @ 10:04

    To be honest, I don’t really care about the photos of Lee and Stuart. The blow-up doll, however, is a different matter entirely. I say this not to be prudish, but taken together with the photos it looks mighty dang suspect. What idiot thought that this would be in any way appropriate, especially for a Christmas photo?!?

    • Rob Baker Dec 17, 2014 @ 10:28

      What idiot thought that this would be in any way appropriate, especially for a Christmas photo?!?

      Fraternities everywhere do this…all the time.

      We could go on the same rant about women’s rights, immigration, etc. etc.

      “I want to know why they felt it appropriate to imitate the birthing of a child, using men instead of women.”

      It’s silly fraternity nonsense. However, it is unlikely that we’ll read any headlines about this same fraternity going to schools to read to children in inner city Philly.

      • Pat Young Dec 17, 2014 @ 17:05

        It is a reflection of unreflective white male privilege.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 17, 2014 @ 17:12

          Well put, Pat.

        • Rob Baker Dec 18, 2014 @ 5:08

          Except that not everyone in the photograph is a white male, so what’s their excuse?

          • Richard Dec 18, 2014 @ 10:08

            Enjoying some privilege as well.

            • Rob Baker Dec 19, 2014 @ 6:54

              Fair enough, but I think anyone that can enjoy frat life at an Ivy League school is enjoying some privilege.

        • John Betts Dec 20, 2014 @ 12:24

          I’m not sure I could construct a more absurd and woefully overused phrase than this one.

  • Andy Hall Dec 17, 2014 @ 9:54
    • John Betts Dec 20, 2014 @ 12:22

      ROFL! Where’s the “like” button?!?

  • Rob Baker Dec 17, 2014 @ 9:18

    They’ve already issued an apology. I don’t think there is any malicious intent here.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 17, 2014 @ 10:04

      Their apology says nothing about why they did what they did. I want to know what they intended by including two photographs of well-known Confederate military leaders and a black blow-up doll. We can then decide whether it was malicious nor not.

      • Rob Baker Dec 17, 2014 @ 10:21

        The apology included what the doll was. Do you really thing that this was a planned and scripted attempt at making racial commentary? I think you’re giving them more credit than they’re worth.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 17, 2014 @ 10:57

          I don’t know what to think. Why photographs of Lee and Stuart?

          • Rob Baker Dec 18, 2014 @ 5:07

            Why the pictures? Why the blow up doll? Why are women objects to be used for sexual pleasure? There are a plethora of observations to be made about this photo. Judging from the background, my guess is those pictures are always there.

            • Kevin Levin Dec 18, 2014 @ 5:17

              As you said, it’s just a “guess.”

              • Stephen Jan 25, 2015 @ 12:14

                Why should they be punished for having portraits of two respectable men in their house

                • Kevin Levin Jan 25, 2015 @ 12:31

                  I offered my thoughts in the post. You can agree or disagree.

  • David Woodbury Dec 17, 2014 @ 7:10

    I would shut them down for the two Cowboys shirts alone.

    • Bryan Cheeseboro Dec 17, 2014 @ 7:37

      I second that, David.

  • Pat Young Dec 17, 2014 @ 6:51

    Not to mention the apparently nearly uniform racial backgrounds of the more than two dozen “brothers”.

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