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September 05, 2001 - Image 30

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The Michigan Daily, 2001-09-05

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2B - The Michigan Daily - New Student Edition - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

.From Yong Republicans to sectarian
Communists, welcome to 'U' politics

Nicv

WOOMER

By Jim Sweeto
Editorial Page Staff Writer
Despite whatever prediction anyone gave you of
what you're college experiences would entail, your
transition from grade school to Michigan affords you
the opportunity to be an active member of the Uni-
versity community. And for some, this will mean a
foray into campus politics. While the news reports
are true, Ann Arbor is not the hotbed of student
activism it once was in the 60s, this by no means
translates into an inactive campus. (And while you're
more likely to find a crowd at a frat party than
protesting something in the Diag), Whether you lean
left or you just got your suit cleaned for the next
Young Republicans meeting, campus politics at
Michigan has a place for you. Interaction between
various groups, organizations and institutions, com-
bined with an ever-changing gamut of issues, forms
the large web of activity that makes up campus poli-
tics
Often, Michigan Student Assembly functions as a
central force in this network of politicking. As the
only campus-wide student government, MSA works
on issues applicable to everyone in the University
community. But make no mistake, student govern-
ment on the college level tends to get more serious
than the prom committees and bake sales so often
associated with high school governments. From the
currently fashionable affirmative action to the more
mundane University policy (like committee appoint-
ments), student government can become a hotbed of
discussion and activity around student concerns.
All pretensions aside, campus politics and espe-
cially MSA, do not always have as big impact as
those involved would like. While MSA might not
always have an administrator's ear or the influence to
change University policies, it derives its power from a

helpful friend: Money. Every semester, MSA collects
$5.69 fee from all students for its operations, and
with roughly 35,000 on the Ann Arbor campus that
means almost half a million dollars controlled by stu-
dents.
Believe me, half a million dollars is nothing to
shake a stick at, and MSA uses about $250,000 to
fund other student groups on campus. This increases
not only MSA's impact on campus politics, but allows
individual student groups to function and promote
their own agendas. And with over 900 student
groups, any of which are free to apply for funding,
this process translates into the promotion of a large
and diverse range of issues.
Still, it's always best to be practical when assessing
how students can affect the University community.
Students usually only have four years to make their
mark, and by the time most learn how to advocate
and promote change, it's time to graduate. Since
administration and faculty are at the University for
the long haul, often all they have to do to diffuse a
student issue or concern is to stall. By the time an
issue makes it way through University committees
and bureaucratic hurdles, the students that organically
brought a problem to attention are long gone.
Student government regularly becomes the butt of
many a joke when they overextend themselves as
well. As former Daily columnist James Miller once
wrote, "administers would rather let lepers lick their
furniture than let students mess around with things
like tuition and admissions policy."
Although the impact of any single organization
may not be very strong, one of the best parts of MSA
and campus politics is the ability to meet and work
with other active people. Those involved with student
government frequently met the definition of
"extremely involved," and they're often active with
other groups and communities on campus.

One warning: MSA's central role in campus poli-
tics and abundance of money makes it the frequent
target of people outside the University community.
For instance, the Revolutionary Workers League, a
sectarian Trotsky socialist group, operates a number
of front groups on campus as well as being interven-
ers in the affirmative action lawsuits. As cult-like left-
ist, they setup the groups BAMN, NWROC, DAAP
and UEAA, on campuses. While not everyone in
these groups are sectarian socialist, newspaper
accounts in such publications like the Los Angeles
Times show that two non-student organizers by the
names of Luke Massie and Shanta Driver run the
show. Both individuals have been active for quite
some time, and run the organizations in partnership
with a law firm in Detroit that is also representing a
group of intervening defendants in the lawsuits chal-
lenging the University's use of affirmative action in
admissions. If this sounds strange, it's because it is
and progressive groups on campus have had trouble
with the RWL, as they often latch onto minority and
progressive issues to grow their group.
The best advice is to just stay away, or you'll learn
for yourself the hard way.
Campus politics is really what you make of it. You
can use it to stuff your resume, fight for ever-impend-
ing socialist revolution or anything else in between. If
you're willing to sacrifice your academics for your
extracurricular activities, it can help you become an
active member of the University community. No mat-
ter how idealist it sounds, if you've got the time, will,
and energy, you can work to shape the University of
Michigan.
- LSA senior Jim Secreto finished his term as
Michigan Student Assembly vice president in March.
He is now a member of the Daily's editorial board
and can be reached via e-mail at
jsecreto@umich. edu.

Students need to do'
more than rake leaves
to solve Detroit's ills

Frats get unjustified bad rap by campus

By Steve Kyrltz
Editorial Page Staff Writer

While watching the news shortly
after I returned home, one of the first
stories I saw was about a very disturb-
ing situation at Dartmouth College.
Apparently, one of Dartmouth's frater-
nities (not one recognized on this cam-
pus by their inter-fraternity council,
incidentally) was being called into
question for some objectionable content
on its website.
It seems that among the items on the
website, which was in the form of a
newsletter, were photographs of four
female students. The girls were all iden-
tified by name, as well as being labeled
"sluts." Apparently, multiple members
of the fraternity had slept with each
girl, and now were crowing proudly
about it. Perhaps even more disturbing
was what the site promised to include
in the future. Appearing in an upcom-
ing issue, it claimed, would be one
brother's sure-fire "how-to" guide to
date rape.
Without a doubt, this is an incredibly
serious and offensive act, but it is not,
as some see it, an excuse to bash frater-
nities in general. On the contrary, I
think that certain aspects of this despi-
cable situation actually serve to high-

light some of the benefits of fraternal
organizations.
Judging from past experience,
some will probably argue that the sit-
uation at Dartmouth would never
have occurred had the guilty parties
not been in a fraternity. I call this the
fundamental attribution error of fra-
ternities.
It is naive to assume that there are no
webpages similar to this one that have
been created by non-Greek students.
The simple fact is, if someone is a date-
raping, woman-objectifying scumbag,
he'll probably associate with other date-
raping, woman-objectifying scumbags
no matter what: Whether they join a
fraternity or not, jerks of a feather tend
to flock together.
The advantage that fraternities offer
to the rest of us is visibility. The reason
there has been so much uproar over this
particular site is because it was on the
webpage of a nationally recognized fra-
ternity, and therefore easy to find. If
identical content had been posted on an
individual's website, finding it and find-
ing him to confront would have been
far more difficult.
The fundamental error exists in
many other cases as well. A perfect
example occurred on this very campus
a few years ago. A couple of girls were

Last spring, about 1,400 Univer-
sity students spent an entire Sat-
urday in Brightmoor, a
neighborhood on Detroit's west side.
By day's end, students had painted
murals, picked up trash, coordinated a
field day for neighborhood youngsters
and demolished vacant buildings. That
foray into the inner city was the year's
crowning achievement for the Detroit
Project - one of the University's most
popular community service organiza-
tions.
Five months later Brightmoor is a
better place to live - at least that's
what the Detroit Project's participants
would have themselves believe.
But is it really?
The Detroit Project's web site at
http://www.umich.edu/~thedp/ asks its
visitors to "Imagine making a REAL
difference in the community. Imagine
being part of an exciting, inspiring pro-
gram that will impact the community
forever." Of course, in a vacuum this
characterization - though probably a
little too optimistic ("forever"?)- is
true. Certainly, when viewed on its
face, there isn't anything wrong with
picking up trash or playing with chil-
dren in an impoverished neighborhood,
but therein lies the problem with com-
munity service as it is practiced at the
University: Students automatically
adopt an overly simplistic perspective
on urban blight.
By refusing to look at poverty within
its proper socio-economic context,
University students (with the best of
intentions, naturally) are probably actu-
ally making the overall situation worse.
That is, it is likely that by failing
(refusing?) to ask why the terrible
problems they aim to correct via com-
munity service exist in the first place
(why is it that Brightmoor is so poverty
stricken?) students are actually con-
tributing to the very problem they say
they want to fix. There are two reasons
for this.
The first reason is that, by emphasiz-
ing peripheral problems like "there
aren't any murals here," or "the streets
are littered with garbage," the Detroit
Project marginalizes the much more
fundamental issues plaguing Detroit,
such as rampant unemployment, police
brutality and racial segregation.
Detroit Project apologists will claim
that no issue is being pushed aside;
that the Detroit Project is simply
focusing on short-term problems that
students can impact directly. But the
uncritical, triumphant language on the
Detroit Project's web site (see above)
indicates otherwise. In a classic exam-
ple of confusing a symptom for a dis-
ease, the Detroit Project's language
communicates a bourgeois sentiment
that the problem with Detroit is that
people there don't have nice things.
Ask anyone who lives in Brightmoor
what would make a more significant
difference in his/her life: a good job or
a (temporarily) trash-free neighbor-
hood ... At the very least, the Detroit
Project's rhetoric amounts to equating,
say, trash with unemployment; that is a
profound insult to anyone trapped in

the cycle of poverty.
The second reason why the Detroit
Project could be doing more harm than
good is that, by de-contextualizing
poverty, it hides the economic and
political realities causing the problems
it claims to address. According to its
website, the Detroit Project's mission is
to unite the University community
behind "the common cause of strength-
ening Detroit"
The obvious message here is that
Detroit can be revitalized if there are
only enough people willing to give up
a little time for activities along the
lines of painting murals and tearing
down abandoned buildings. But if
Detroiters are going to be genuinely
empowered, they need (among many
other things) good jobs, as well as
decent housing and transportation; yet
there is absolutely nothing to suggest
that the Detroit Project has any plans*
work toward fixing even one of these
far more fundamental problems. It is as
if the Detroit Project's primary function
is to replace moral outrage with the
frizzy wuzzes.
Julian Bond, chairman of the
NAACP, touched on this issue when he
was quoted in the July 23/30 issue of
The Nation: "The big foundations and
corporations love social service, b
they don't like justice Service is warff
and huggy and lovable. Justice is in
your face and controversial."
Justice and service are by no
means two equally important sides of
the same coin. The Detroit Project's
stated mission - to strengthen
Detroit - can be fulfilled if and only
if the people of Detroit are genuinely
empowered - economically and
politically. The irony is, in the event
that Detroit ever is resurrected, t
Detroit Project - if it continues to
operate as it always has - will have
had nothing to do with it.
There is hope however. The Detroit
Project's "success" has at least
demonstrated that University stu-
dents can be mobilized to do what
they think is right; so the potential
for genuine change and empower-
ment is there.
This year, the Detroit Project shou
take its cue from organizations like
the Association of Community Orga-
nizations for Reform Now
(http://www.acorn.org), which has
fought for living wage ordinances,
registered 500,000 new voters and
campaigned against predatory lend-
ing.
Of course, this is not the type of ser-
vice that evokes an "aww isn't that just
terrific!"response from everyone, thea
are, after all, plenty of people w
profit from rampant poverty in the
inner city. The question is: Are Univer-
sity students willing to take the heat
from certain entrenched interests to
actually "strengthen Detroit," or are
they going to be satisfied with empty
sentimentality?
- Nick oome, an LSA senior; is
editorial page editor and a columnist
for The Michigan Daily. He can*
reached at nwoomer@umich.edu.

FILE PHOTO
The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity hosts the traditional Mud Bowl the Saturday
morning of Homecoming.

Ia

THREE
FLOORS
OF
STUFF
YOU
SIMPLY
CANNOT
LIVE
WITHOUT

New and Used Textbooks
Medical Books and
Supplies
Law Books
Art and Drafting Supplies
School and Office Supplies
Greeting Cards
Calculators
In-store CLINIQUE Counter
School Supplies
Backpacks and Briefcases
U of M Sportswear
Art prints and Posters
Candy and Snacks
Fax Service
Special Orders
24 hr. Film Service

dangerously drunk and had to be taken
from a fraternity party by ambulance.
Immediately, everyone was quick to
assume that the fraternity was blame,
and preliminary news accounts reflect-
ed this.
In truth, the girls in question arrived
at the party already drunk, and it was
members of the fraternity that called
for medical assistance. Because it was a
fraternity party and a sober monitor
system was in place, the situation was
handled safely, and a potentially tragic
situation was averted.
What would have happened if the
same girls had shown up at a house
party instead, where there is no assur-
ance of sober door monitors and risk
managers? Perhaps the situation would
have played out the same, but perhaps
not. But then there wouldn't have been
a big bad fraternity to blame.
I spoke of naievete earlier; I am not
naive enough myself to think that bad
things do not occur at fraternities. To
blame the Greek system and organiza-
tions themselves, however, is pure
folly. Date rape, binge drinking,
drugs, fighting and other such prob-
lems are not Greek issues; they're
issues which all college men and
women must face.
It may seem that fraternities assume
the bulk of the responsibility for these
things, but this can be attributed to two
main factors. For one, fraternities are a
larger concentration of men. Common
sense dictates that there is going to be
more drinking, more fighting, more sex
going on in a fraternity house than in a
regular house. It's not because they're
more prone to such behaviors; it's
because fraternities house many more
people than regular houses.
The second reason is that everyone
loves a scapegoat and fraternities are the
easiest scapegoats of all. No one wants
to hear that there are actually people on
this campus who would do stupid or bad
things; it's much easier to stomach if it's

the fault of the big bad fraternity.
I realize that this may just sound like
a bunch of whining from a frat guy
who's tired of hearing all that crap, and
that may be the case. Still, the facts
remain the same: fraternities are not
inherently bad. If nothing else, they
allow people to turn a blind eye to
problems like binge drinking and date
rape by providing an easy, if not neces-
sarily justified, scapegoat.
So to those of you already in fraterni-
ties, I say buck up. Granted, there are of
people who don't like you simply
because of your fraternal associations,
but they are narrow-minded individuals
who aren't worth worrying about. So
keep on (responsibly) doin' what you're
doin'.
To Michigan students who have
already chosen not to join a fraternity,
don't worry, I'm not trying to convert
you and turn the whole world Greek. I
simply ask that you look at fraternities
with a fair and unbiased eye, just as you
would ask others to do for you. And
should a fraternity member be guilty of
a transgression, do not assume that it
was because of his fraternity status.
Judge people as people, not Greek let-
ters.
Finally, to those students who have
not yet chosen their path, I simply ask
you to keep your minds open. Fraterni-
ties may not be for everyone, but
whether you join or not should be your
decision, and not that of the media.
Look around, see what the Greek com-
munity has to offer, and then make your
decision. No matter which direction
you take, your time at the University
can be the greatest of your life. Don't
let the fears and biases of others dictate
its course and prevent you from having
the best experience possible.
- Steve Kyritz is an LSA senior and a
member of the Phi Kappa Psi
fraternity. He also a Daily
columnist and can be reached via
e-mail at skyritz@umich.edu.

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LET YOUR VOICE
BE HEARD,
We get letters ...
Lots of them.
From activists, sports fans, administrators, bigots,
policy makers, alumni, children, prisoners and
everyone else in-between.
And we want to hear from you, YOUr praise, your
hatred, your thoughts, your ideas.

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The Daily's editorial page is the University's number
one place to turn-to for debate and-discussion on
every issue-under the sun,
E-mail your letters to daI y etter@umick du.

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