For the most part, furor regarding the Sigma Chi Halloween party has abated over the last week. But during that time, calls for reform have been continued throughout the University. Some want educational programs and sensitivity training, others restrictions on speech or severe punishment. None of these, however, are likely to produce a more welcoming community. Increasing the number of minority faculty is an admirable goal, but it is the solution to another problem -- not the one revealed on Halloween. This is a student predicament and will not be solved with directives from Garland Hall.
Many students and community members seem to think the administration possesses some magic potion that will cure our ills. President Brody explained the trouble succinctly on Monday when he addressed a forum organized to discuss the party and its aftermath: "We have a lot of students that are very bright, but also very ignorant." This ignorance cannot be overcome with education, paradoxical though that may sound. The members of Sigma Chi responsible for "Halloween in the Hood" know that racism exists. They know that blacks have been grossly mistreated throughout American history. Their understanding of these topics may not be evolved by any means, but we suspect that they are not unaware of the plight faced by African-Americans; indeed, they are most likely sympathetic to it.
What they are unaware of, however, are the boundaries of acceptable conduct. The University promotes a variety of guidelines intended to ensure tolerance, but most students encounter them only as freshmen and soon forget those vital instructions. The University can attempt to establish those boundaries more firmly, but it is through interpersonal relationships that we internalize the modes of social conduct that govern our lives. It is undeniable that Hopkins is fraught with informal segregation. The reasons for this are myriad and understandable. The blame lies with all students. We appear collectively incapable of overcoming racial barriers in our friendships.
Perhaps if the brothers of Sigma Chi were more fully implicated in the lives of their fellow students in the black community they would have realized that what was intended as a joke would not be appreciated as such. Through gaffs and laughs with understanding friends we learn where amusement turns to bad taste and offense. The members of Sigma Chi clearly lacked that understanding -- as do many of us at Hopkins.
The University can't decide who our friends are, and attempts to increase the diversity of small groups quickly degenerate into tokenism. Among the lessons of the Sigma Chi controversy is the following: The quality of the Hopkins student community is in the hands of its members. Change will not come from on high, be it the administration, the national chapter of Sigma Chi or the NAACP. Real diversity emerges from voluntary, mutually edifying interaction. In other words, this one's on us.