Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"A kite needs to be tied down…."

Among my artist colleagues, there’s something I don’t often admit. In fact, when we were dating, it was many months before I told my now-husband that I had been in a sorority. This is not a discussion about the pros and cons of Greek life, there are both. This is about a recent event.

It was a different school but that same sorority. Kappa Alpha Theta just disbanded its University of Michigan chapter for hazing and underage drinking. It had been the oldest sorority (actually, women’s fraternity) on campus, and one of the earliest chapters established in the United States.

Sadly, I agree with the Grand Council’s decision to close the sorority. According to a published account, a group of pledges responded to a fraternity serenade by becoming inebriated, taking off clothes, putting on chocolate syrup, making out (at the least), capturing it on video, and then posting it on the internet. Because the entire chapter has been punished, my guess is that this is but the latest infraction and part of a larger history.

As one of those young women who was emotionally and socially ill-prepared for big university life, I delved much too deeply into the recreational and celebratory aspects of Greek life. Fortunately, I had parents who recognized this and supported me when I transferred to a much smaller liberal arts college where I thrived. Actions have consequences, a hard lesson I’ve had to learn again and again.

I admit, I am not a parent. I can only imagine the challenge of navigating popular culture, peer pressure, social media, and celebrity – all bombarding young people today. But there comes a point when someone has to recognize that the Kardashians and Miley Cyrus are not role models; that Victoria Secret’s Pink and American Apparel sell with hypersexualized objectification of women; that ten thousand likes on one of ten thousand selfies are meaningless, and that often, sex with an inebriated minor is rape.

Perhaps it’s time to reset our moral compass and change the conversation. I don’t mean in some right-wing, so-called Christian fundamentalist way. While we’re arguing about the gender of bathrooms, young people are treating themselves and others with the same respect that third-world terrorists treat their captives. We define millennials by their buying-power, not their character, and our tendency toward charity, kindness, and empathy is certainly in scarce supply.

I keep hearing people who are worried about the economic future of their children’s children. I would suggest worrying about our own character, and how it informs the behavior of young people. In doing so we safeguard not only our young people’s future, but that of generations to come.

Oh, by the way, I was a debutante too.