Monthly Archives: February 2007

Delta Zeta, continued

We discussed the Delta Zeta incident a bit today in two of my classes (the Times article and growing publicity was on everyone’s mind, except for one freshmen who had somehow remained oblivious to the entire incident) , somewhat more extensively in one than another. In one, we talked about families of choice, including those created at college. One student pointed out that the women who left Delta Zeta, while no longer living together, are closer than ever. The feeling of family, of pulling together, of mutual support, has been strengthened by adversity.

I’m very proud of the two excellently-written letters from DePauw students in today’s Times; the other two, one from a parent, made important points as well.

CNN did a report on the situation (without acknowledging the Times piece, I believe) this evening on Paula Zahn’s show. The piece itself was OK, especially the moving clips of some of the women discussing their situation. Paula Z was appropriately confrontational with Cindy Menges, the Delta Zeta national executive director, who continued the blame-the-victims spin approach Delta Zeta as taken. When Zahn asked if there are any minority students left at DePauw’s Delta Zeta chapter, Menges absurdly claimed not to know (after all this barrage of publicity?).

Neither Zahn nor anyone on the panel (none of whom seemed to have thought through anything about the situation in advance) picked up on the assertion reported in the piece that the national office had encouraged the women in the chapter to do more drinking at fraternity parties, be more sexual in their interactions with fraternity men, and, by implication, sleep around more.

Menges kept claiming that the women ousted from the chapter had refused to agree to the “recruitment plan.” Well, if the plan required dressing more suggestively, doing more drinking, and sleeping around more to “improve” the chapter’s image, then no wonder these smart, academically-oriented women didn’t buy in.

The reporter’s piece was pretty good. Zahn and, especially, the panel (Dad called to tell me they all seemed like idiots) were poorly prepared, and no one showed any evidence of having carefully watched the piece or thought intelligently about it. It was a clear example of the low standards of much of the discussion on cable news channels.



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The Bright Side of DePauw’s Greek Life

The article on the Delta Zeta scandal here at DePauw (which I wrote about yesterday) is number one on the New York Times most-emailed list, as of 11:15 AM today. And, yes, it is a big topic of conversation on campus. DePauw’s campus is overwhelmingly “Greek.” About 70% or so of our students are members of a fraternity or sorority. (Only a small minority of music majors, though, are Greek; the vast majority are independent.)

The incident does not cast the Greek system, or its pervasiveness at DePauw (evidently the result of a time a hundred years or so ago when the university couldn’t afford to build dorms and fraternities and sororities filled in the gap), in a positive light. It’s the dark side of Greek life, but there is a very bright side as well.

I live next to a fraternity house. The guys there are among the nicest, smartest, and most responsible I have met at DePauw. They rarely have loud noisy parties, and if they are planning on one, they visit the neighbors and let them know, give us coupons for free pizza from the one really good pizza place in town, and then have a party that is usually rather anemic by fraternity-party standards, at least when it comes to noise. It’s a bunch of nice, smart, nerdy (in a good sense) guys trying to misbehave but not having it in them to pull it off. A number of of the brothers have taken classes with me, and I know from them how much this home-away-from-home, and the mutual support means to them. And they readily accept out gay men.

Saturday night the Putnam County Museum had a fundraising roast/tribute for Dorothy Brown, a local resident who had an outstanding career as an educator: school teacher, principal, and education professor at DePauw. She was also the first African American teacher and principal in Greencastle, so her career is historically significant as well. And for since her retirement from DePauw 15 years ago, she’s been the house mother for one of the fraternities on campus. At the roast, a number of current and former members of the fraternity spoke of her with great humor and love; they call her “Mom Brown,” or just “Mom.” Towards the end of the evening, about forty guys knelt around the platform and serenaded her with the same song they sing outside sororities during “flower ins” and similar events. It was a sweetly paradoxical moment; these very low, very masculine, gruff, and very out of tune voices singing with a tender love for someone who has made a great difference in their lives. The bonds of affection and the benefits of brotherhood were clearly evident.

It’s rare to find a gay man my age who lived in a fraternity while in college. But many of us have had the experience of creating a second family, a family of choice, when we found ourselves not accepted by our families of origin. For a while after I got divorced I shared a house with three other gay men and the teenage daughter of one of them. It was wonderful in many ways. I used to call it my “gay fraternity.” There was much mutual support; we felt like brothers. I came to feel more comfortable and open with them than I did with the men in the support group I was attending.

So I have some sort of sense, I think, of what a family of choice and a sense of brotherhood can mean to guys in a fraternity (and to sisters in a sorority). Unlike my experience, in which we were brought together by financial necessity, members of fraternities and sororities have chosen each other, and made explicit commitments to one another, commitments formalized by ritual and then solidified by the experience of living together and sharing each other’s loves.

I was incredibly lonely and often isolated during my college years, and spent much of them living in an apartment. I often feel a pang of envy for the sense of belonging and acceptance that so many of my Greek students clearly experience. I know how much it can mean, I know how important and central those relationships can become on many levels, including the emotional and spiritual.

Reflecting on this makes me more appreciative for the good aspects of Greek life here at DePauw, and of the extraordinary hurt and emotional trauma experienced by the women of Delta Zeta here at DePauw.

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The Captain Renault Award for Feigned Shock and Outrage

. . . goes to the national officers of Delta Zeta sorority.

My father called at 8:38 AM today. It was an unusually early call for a Sunday morning; when I saw the caller ID, I immediately worried something was wrong.

Well, something is wrong, but it isn’t in my family.

Mom and Dad live in Tampa. Today’s New York Times includes a front-page article, reprinted in both the St. Petersburg and Tampa papers, which let the rest of the world, including my parents, know that national office of Delta Zeta sorority told 23 of the 35 members of the DePauw chapter, just before finals, that they were being placed on “alumna” status and would need to find somewhere else to live. It’s a mere coincidence, the national office would have us believe, that those 23 included the minority students and everyone who was overweight.

Dad wanted to make sure I knew about the article. I told him I had read it last night on the Times website. He gave me a synopsis anyway, as is his custom, evidently to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

Later in the day I played a concert in Lafayette, Indiana. “Well, that’s some pretty bad publicity for DePauw,” was how one of the other musicians greeted me. On first read, I didn’t think the university community or administration came off badly. It was clear it was an action by the national office; six of the twelve women who were allowed to stay in the sorority quit in protest. DePauw’s president, Bob Bottoms, made his displeasure clear in the interview he gave to the Times reporter, and it was clear that the faculty and students had rallied in support of the ejected women.

It doesn’t speak all that well for the overall climate on campus, though, that Delta Zeta had developed an unflattering reputation among many fraternity men, as the article elaborates. There was a hell of an uproar over this, though, and I know plenty of guys in fraternities who are appalled.

But why has the chapter been allowed to remain open on campus at all in light of this? I’ve been asked that several times today, and the more I think about it, the less I have an answer. It seems self-evident that this incident includes both racism and what is often called body fascism. On its website, however, Delta Zeta says it finds such suggestions “offensive.” Who could be a more deserving recipient of the Captain Renault Award for Feigned Shock and Outrage (“I’m shocked, simply shocked, to find there is gambling going on here!”)? How could anyone see a sorority order all the minority sisters in a chapter to move out and conclude that race was a factor?

Well, maybe that’s the answer. The Delta Zeta national office has adopted a blame-the-victim strategy so far. All these women (including the chapter president) who didn’t fit the thin, good-looking white-girl stereotype and were kicked out, midyear? They weren’t “committed” enough to remain. It’s their fault.

No one in even a quasi-right mind would admit they were doing something like this based on weight or race. Untenured faculty members avoid alienating their colleagues who make tenure decisions, not because they think someone is going to say, “I don’t like him, don’t give him tenure,” but because they know that someone who has it in for you will devote himself to finding faults on which to build a legitimate-sounding case against you.

So it’s very difficult to prove racism, or any other bias, even when it seems self-evident. Perhaps the Delta Zeta nationals are only monumentally insensitive and so extraordinarily myopic that they couldn’t foresee how their actions would be perceived. That’s the most benign way I can interpret it.

President Bottoms’s email account (as well as those of the Delta Zeta national officers) will surely be inundated tomorrow. DePauw’s website acknowledges the Times article and presents the university’s response in a favorable light, and includes this .pdf of a “letter of reprimand” sent by Dr. Bottoms to the Delta Zeta national president. The letter’s complaints focus on timing and insensitivity regarding communication. It also “recognize[s] the right of a national Greek organization to restructure,” which of course they have. But there’s no mention of the truly offensive message the national office has sent through its actions much louder than any words could have. I have never known any group of people more dedicated to racial equality, or more obsessed with bringing diversity to a small historically white school such as ours than Dr. Bottoms and his administrative colleagues. So I just don’t get it. I can only assume that he believed it would be counterproductive to articulate the perceptions on campus (and now around the world).

When my mother was a sophomore or junior at Wayne State University in Detroit, she was the president of the campus chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota, a music sorority. They pledged an African-American student, and all hell broke loose. She received numerous calls, including one from the national president, to inform her in no uncertain terms that SAI did not pledge “black girls.” My mother is nothing if not stubborn and she stuck to her guns. The young woman was a wonderful musician and excellent student; there was no legitimate reason to deny her membership and every reason to accept her. Call the Dean of Students, Mom said, if you don’t want her. And he’ll tell you Wayne has a strict policy of nondiscrimination and that the chapter will be decertified if we exclude her.

So SAI gained its first African-American student. And that was probably close to 30 years before the DePauw chapter of Delta Zeta did the same. When I searched “Delta Zeta DePauw” on the Times site, the only other story was about a 1982 incident in which the all-white chapter declined to offer a pledge bid to an African American student whom many of the sisters liked. Delta Zeta had become quite diverse here, until the national officers stepped in. And maybe it is a coincidence that the three non-caucasians were among the many asked to leave; perhaps they just weren’t conventionally pretty enough.

After the cleansing (ethnic or otherwise), only six remained after some invited to stay quit. And only three first-year students have become active pledges, according to the Times article. Dr. Bottoms’s letter notes that the national office is considering closing the DePauw chapter at least temporarily, and that the university does not promise that they’d be allowed to reopen in the future.

It’s not kicking them off campus, but it is a start. I’m sad about the bad publicity for this great university and for all the pain so many have experienced over this. And I’d prouder than ever of my mother, for taking a firm stand over 50 years ago.

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Website redesign: who am I?

Stage 1 of my website redesign was to get the original site cleaned up and functional again. That’s done.

Stage 2 is to develop a sense of the tone, style, and energy. Good musician websites really convey the personality and strengths of the performer, in the basic design, in colors, fonts, photos, etc. So I just wrote a large sample of friends and colleagues who know me as a musician and asked for the three or four adjectives that spring to mind when they think of me. I want the image I promote of myself to really be me.

If you are a friend or colleague and I didn’t email you, don’t take it personally–I didn’t want to mail everyone I know. And even if you don’t know me personally but have gained a sense of me from the blogs and video clips, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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Pendulums swing back and forth. There’s a new era of prudery; hopefully things have swung as far in the conservative direction now as they had in the opposite direction in the sexual-revolution days, and we’ll find some sort of common-sense middle ground regarding sex. Everyone, especially in academia, is so afraid of it these days, it seems.

The New York Times today reports a growing controversy over the use of the word “scrotum” in a Newberry-award winning book intended for 9 to 12-year-olds.


It reminds me of a story my father tells from when I was in kindergarten. Walking to school one day, some other kids were talking about “wee-wees” and “dickies” and I, already exhibiting both by teaching and know-it-all instincts, informed them that what they were talking about is actually called a “penis.”

That evening, my father got a call from a father of one of the other kids, complaining that I had taught his son a dirty word. My father explained that this was, after all, the correct and neutral word, and noted that as a lawyer, were he in court, he would not be allowed to say, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client’s ‘dickie‘ was permanently injured in the accident and he deserves fair compensation.” The judge would not just allow but expect him to use the word “penis.” I don’t know how well that conversation ended, but Dad had a good point.

It is clear that so many teachers are afraid to death of even naming body parts for fear of being accused of using sexually-provocative language, and so The High Power of Lucky is getting banned by elementary-school libraries for transgressing moral standards by including the word “scrotum.” I did not appreciate the sexual overtures I received from some of my teachers in my later high-school and college years. There were some unhealthy aspects to the sexual revolution. But the new Puritanism isn’t much better.

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My website–fully functional again

Back in January or December, before I went on my internet detox program, I noticed that the amount of server space and bandwidth I was alloted by my web host, Ipower, was much smaller than they were offering new customers for the same amount I pay. So I sent them an email, and they said they’d be happy to up my quotas, but they would have to move my site to a different machine. I could backup and reinstall my files on the new server myself, or pay them $50 to do it for me.

It really seemed to me that they should do it for free, but it wasn’t a battle I felt like fighting. So I decided to do it myself. Well, of all the times to be conservative with my money, this was one of the worst. I hadn’t organized the photos and sound files and video files, etc., in an intelligent way on my own hard drive, so they were a pain in the rear end to find. And I had built the site on the server using Frontpage, but I couldn’t use Frontpage extensions on the new server until it was up and running, and blah, blah, blah. So a lot of the links got screwed up and other things always seemed more pressing.

Hell froze over last night. It have, because for the first time since I joined the faculty in 1988, DePauw University cancelled all classes because of winter weather. So with a snow day on my hands, and not feeling like going sledding, I got the site sorted out again.

It’s neater and more streamlined than the last incarnation. As I said in my last post, I need a bunch of good pictures. But at least it’s possible to download the video and audio files again.

And I managed to practice in the midst of all this, too!

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Cellist Websites

I’m in the process of redesigning my website, which has prompted me to start scouring the web for cellist websites to steal, oops, borrow ideas from. With help from my friends in the Internet Cello Society Cello Chat forum, I’ve put together the following list:

These are listed in arbitrary order. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and I’ll write some comments about each. One thing that has become clear is that I need to get bunch of current photos taken for my site. Right now there are no photos, and all the ones I have show me with a beard, which I no longer have.

It’s interesting to see that there are few if any photos on any of these sites in which the artist is wearing highly formal attire.


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