Monday, October 18, 2004

Those Frat Boys...

“However we may choose to draw the actual boundaries of the public sphere, it is clear that these themes readily intersect with important areas of the sociocultural domain. I am thinking here of those everyday values, norms, practices, and procedures that may promote or hinder democratic virtues (however understood), including forms of interaction among citizens.” (page 41) -Dahlgreen’s “The Public Sphere”

The context of my story is slightly different but it is too good not to share. When I was at Dartmouth, there was a huge scandal when an internally distributed fraternity newsletter was leaked out to the public. The content of the newsletter itself was the main issue at hand because it was making fun of girls and sexual escapades.
However, I am looking at it in a different light in context of this class. We have talked about print, authorship, and the notions of public and private. Usually something is printed in order to make it more public, but in this case, they definitely did not want it read by the public. The issue is that the newsletter was obtained by people scrounging through what would be viewed as a private space (the fraternity's dumpster). Did they have a right to do that?

Read below for more details if you’re interested. There was never a concern about the fact that someone went through the trash to find the newsletter. However, if someone went through the trash to find a credit card slip, that would be viewed very differently. I am almost inclined to say that the brothers should not have been judged for something that was found in their dumpster – shouldn’t there have been some sort of right to privacy?

"The Newsletters were not intended to be seen or read by individuals who were not members of Psi Epsilon of Zeta Psi. The Newsletters were not meant to be disclosed to members outside of Psi Epsilon of Zeta Psi. They contained private communications. One Newsletter became public after it was stolen from Zeta Psi premises, a second alleged Newsletter was made public when it was taken without permission from a member's room, and a third Newsletter was destroyed by Psi Epsilon of Zeta Psi and was only made public because a Dartmouth sorority woman, not formally affiliated with Psi Epsilon of Zeta Psi, although well known to its members, decided to comb through a dumpster to find it. "-- Zeta Psi Press Release

Also see Zeta Psi Shuttered for "Abusive" Newsletter


Blogger Joseph Lorenzo Hall said...

I had a law professor/supervisor (now at USC) that would advise everyone moving to San Francisco should buy a good shreader, first thing. Why? Because on trash day and recycling day, there would be a whole horde of bums (and not-so-bummy bums) that look through the trash for sensitive information like credit card slips (be glad you live in CA where merchancts are forbidden by law to list certain credit card details on your receipt).

Privacy is a particularly grueling issue... which is perfectly demonstrated by Demonstrate. Demonstrate proved that even in a highly public place - moreover, in a historically public place - there's reasonable expectations of privacy (reading letters, looking at computer monitors, breastfeeding etc.).

4:43 PM  
Blogger Steve Chan said...

Reading this, I have 2 reactions:

1) Boys will be boys. A fraternity basically indulges many of the worse characteristics of late adolescent males (I was in the Greek system in college, so I have a reasonable inside view), and many of the things that go on within a fraternity are the sorts of things that would be socially unacceptable, and in some situations, physically (not merely emotional) abusive and criminal. Saying "boys will be boys" is not to say that the behavior is to be condoned, however it is institutionalized - even at prestigious universities such as Dartmouth. To be honest, while I had good times as a "frat boy", looking back, I would have gladly gone down another path. It is not a matter of regret, so much as a better way to have spent my youthful time and energy.

2) What is the backstory? Given that people generally know what goes on within a fraternity, why would a newsletter lead to the fraternity being derecognized. What was the political environment, and who were the players involved? None of these are clear from the article.

The second point is one of the problems with the "public sphere" - often what gets reported is a superficial and sanitized account of what happened. The real story is rarely a part of the "public sphere" - where the veneer of objectivity and process is spray painted over the gritty reality of how the situation actually developed.

5:27 PM  

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