Earlier this year a University of Wisconsin-Madison student at a fraternity house yelled racial slurs and threw a glass bottle at two Black female students. The story is reported in the Wisconsin State Journal with the following title:
Notice that race isn’t mentioned, but alcohol is. This makes no sense. The March 23rd article is about an instance of racial harassment that occurred on March 16th. The “alcohol incident” was old news; it had happened six months earlier in September. Why is the old news the headline?
This wasn’t on purpose, was it?
It looks that way.
Reader Nils G. pointed out that the URL of the article reveals that there was a decision to change the title of the article from one that focused on race to one that focused on alcohol. When you’re posting an article, the program automatically creates a URL using the first title you choose. If you later change the title, the URL stays the same. The URL of this article?: “UW Fraternity Temporarily Suspended for Racial Incident.”
So, there was a choice to change the impact of this article from one that put race front-and-center to one about (frat) boys being (drunken frat) boys. We can only speculate about why.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Tusconian — May 14, 2012
We don't KNOW why, but I certainly have my suspicions. People in Greek life are very, very defensive about how they're portrayed in the public eye. This makes sense, but in my experience, they try to achieve their good reputations by manipulating outsiders, NOT by requiring their members to act like "ladies and gentlemen" as they claim (and also how they choose their members. Can't be known on campus as the "fat sorority" or the "black fraternity!"). Everyone expects frat boys to get into silly antics involving alcohol. It no longer reflects that badly on them to be known as "the fraternity that had an alcohol incident" because EVERY fraternity has an "alcohol incident" at one time or another. It does reflect badly on a Greek organization to be associated with racism. Fewer people are even going to bother reading about an "alcohol incident" because they're all the same. "Frat boys have university prohibited parties, under-21s get drunk, someone gets alcohol poisoning, the end." Unless someone dies or an underage girl is sexually assaulted, no one finds this story worth reading anymore. Frankly, I think "racism" is as deeply ingrained in most mainstream fraternities and sororities as "getting drunk" is, but consider the type of people frat boys and sorority girls grow up to be; they often grow up to be important people in business, media, politics, etc. (my speculation is that someone at the newspaper was previously a member of that fraternity, in all honesty). Open racism isn't particularly tolerated in the professional world nowadays (let's not get in to covert racism), and if the world in general knows that these particular boys are violent racists, and those boys represent whatever fraternity they're in, it reflects badly on the whole fraternity. So instead of not allowing fraternities to at best allow racism with a wink and a nod and at worst openly encourage it violently, they cover up these incidents with cute euphemisms, so people will skim right past the article chuckling "this isn't news, boys will be boys after all!"
Ted_Howard — May 14, 2012
The article states the fraternity was on "alcohol probation," which is a specific type of probation at many universities. Saying they are on probation for an alcohol incident is actually more accurate since they were, in fact, specifically on alcohol probation. There is no reason to impune the motives of people involved when there is plausible, much more generous, explanation.
The real scandal is why someone throwing glass bottles at someone wasn't charged with assault! Under most (all perhaps?) state laws you can be charged with assault if you violently put someone in danger - even if you miss (if he hit them, then it's battery). Considering if the glass hit her in the head or something they could be blinded or disfigured, it seems a battery investigation was warranted, yet the article mentions the police were never contacted.
Xiao Mao — May 14, 2012
Madison, WI is an EXTREMELY racist, classist town. This incident is only a tiny representation of a way larger problem. Also in the news is the "achievement gap" in Madison schools. ALL about race and class, and they avoid using language that indicates that. The divide between class, education and race are very pronounced.
myblackfriendsays — May 14, 2012
Good eye, Nils G.
TW — May 14, 2012
I'd like to know the relative timings. For me the change looks like one from a breaking news story (UW Fraternity suspended) to a follow up story which assumes familiarity with the racial angle and the story already (Fraternity had history of causing trouble). If you wanted to simply obliterate the racial story, you would phrase the second headline as 'UW Fraternity put on probation for alcohol incident'. Perhaps they were too quick in moving on from the racial angle, but if you can give us the dates of the first and second articles, we can make a judgement on that, and may be able to check the full text in the Wayback machine.
pduggie — May 15, 2012
"We can only speculate about why."
Well, no. Deborah Ziff has an email address and a phone number, You could try to contact her and ask.
Village Idiot — May 17, 2012
So, there was a choice to change the impact of this article from one
that put race front-and-center to one about (frat) boys being (drunken
frat) boys. We can only speculate about why.
Membership has its privileges!
Having your misdeeds covered up by a brother (or sister) who happens to be in a position to do so is one of the perks of being part of the utterly bizarre "Greek" scene (the best friends money can buy!).
pduggie — May 26, 2012
1. This is still irresponsible from Wade for not
a) contacting the author. (I actually did, and she pointed me to the article the date BEFORE that was clear on the racial dimension)
b) not updating anything in this article to reflect that, imputing bad motives, while disingenuously saying "who can tell"
2. Interestingly, it appears no overt racial slurs were used. The trespassers were called "poor" & "peasants" and the frat identified themselves as the "1%"