In 2002, I joined the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity. I did so as a white male from a middle-class family, questioning the existence of god, and trying to come to terms with my sexuality. I also considered myself a liberal and a proud Democrat. The chapter I joined lacked racial diversity (a fact we realized and actively worked to correct). Our membership came from every level of economic background. I was also surrounded by people who had a passionate faith in god but never made me feel uncomfortable for questioning. After college, I would learn I was not alone in the battle of sexuality. Finally, it being Oklahoma, my chapter was filled with conservatives and Republicans. Fortunately for me, this reality has been my whole life. I have become well-trained in the art of political dialogue. I knew what lines to cross and which ones to avoid.
For the time and place we occupied, our chapter possessed a level of diversity which would become a moderate source of pride for me. As I mentioned above, there was still much work to be done, but we were committed to the idea of at least racial and economic diversity. It would be years after accepting alumnus status for the chapter to mature on sexual identity, but like all institutions this takes time. With all of this said, my 2017 annual letter to the men of Pi Kappa Alpha is focused on a different kind of diversity; diversity of thought.
For the last six years, I have been an adviser to the Pike chapter at the University of Washington. Seattle is a completely different place from Edmond, OK. The members of Beta Beta are from wealthier families. More of the membership claims the views of agnosticism or atheism. They possess more liberal views on sexuality and politics. They still struggle with racial diversity but are doing a better job than my home chapter ever could. I am proud of them and proud to call myself their adviser, but something happened last week that has stuck with me.
One of our undergraduate members was interviewed with lots of other people for a local YouTube channel. In the video, he expressed some views that were outside the norm. Admittedly, his opinion could have been better articulated, but the view was his. He agreed to the interview. He thought wearing his letters in the interview was acceptable. He agreed to be filmed. He knew the risk.
After the video grew in popularity, I got a text message from the chapter president informing me of the video, the opinion expressed, and subsequent backlash. He wanted some advice on how to proceed. I watched the video and told him the following:
"I would prepare a statement, something like this. Pi Kappa Alpha at the University of Washington has a long and rich history of accepting members of different socio-economic, cultural, religious, sexual, and ethnic backgrounds. Our diversity reflects the campus where we reside. A part of that diversity is a diversity of thought. While we do not necessarily support the views of the member pictured in the video, we do support his right to have a diverse point of view. As we move forward, we will continue internally to work on diversity training and exposing our members to ideas outside of their traditional norm."
Now, I know this reads like a standard release meant to deflect, but I meant every word. I meant it because something strange is happening on college campuses today. I wholeheartedly believe in political correctness. I also believe in creating safe spaces for traditionally marginalized groups; places where they can be themselves without fear of retaliation or rigid reaction. I also believe college campuses should foster debate on politics, philosophy, religion, and a myriad of others issues facing humanity. These discussions should take place within the confines of the classroom, student organizations, dorm rooms, fraternity/sorority houses, and beyond. Our students should be open to questioning the world and having their world questioned. They should permit a diversity of thought to enter their lives. They should process this information and make their own decisions. These interactions will shape their worldview and better prepare them for life outside the protected and hallowed halls of academia. They should also learn to express themselves without intimidating, bullying, and belittling others. The dialogue of the outside world should remain respectful; a lesson that can and should begin in the classroom.
In college, I had two amazing professors. One taught humanities and the other philosophy. The one that taught humanities also happened to be a deacon in an orthodox church. Within those two classrooms, I really began to question religion. I was taught to analyze and dissect arguments. I also learned to create and defend my own beliefs. Our classroom discussions were civil and organized. They prepared me for a world where my opinions might be in the minority, but they also instilled in me a sense of respect for the other side. This is something missing from today's world.
As we move forward, it is my sincere hope the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity will continue to be an organization encouraging diversity, debate, and powerful conversations. I hope differences can be discussed openly and respectfully. If we do this, then I truly believe our members will be ready for the real world.
Be good to each other,