Truth in Sigma Chi flyer issue is far from clear

    In recent weeks, UCSD has suddenly become an overtly racially charged campus. A particularly mysterious incident occurred two weeks ago at the Price Center, International House and Earl Warren College where flyers bearing images of Ku Klux Klan members in front of a flaming cross, accompanied by the text “”Don’t get caught hangin’!: Spring Rush 2003″” and Sigma Chi’s Greek letters appeared. The flyers spurred a 150-person rally at Price Center Plaza on April 16 and emphatic statements by Sigma Chi that it was not the source of the flyers. As yet, no one has claimed responsibility for the flyers.

    It’s hard to judge what’s more abhorrent: the possibility that Sigma Chi was the source of the posters, and was attempting to exploit bigotry as a way to attract pledges, or the possibility that some enemy of Sigma Chi attempted to smear the organization with such flyers.

    It’s very likely that Sigma Chi was being truthful when they disavowed any connection with the flyers. Sigma Chi was founded in 1855, and the current members of its UCSD branch must certainly realize that their success as an organization depends on being inclusive and courteous to all potential pledges. They certainly would have realized beforehand that such a flyer design, with such strong imagery, would hurt rather than help their cause — especially when posted in International House, which attracts racial diversity. And it seems odd that a fraternity would make use of racial violence in their rush flyers rather than the positive aspects of rushing a fraternity — brotherhood, social events, community service and the like.

    This points to a person or organization, angry at Sigma Chi for some reason, resorting to cowardess and fraud in an attempt to frame the organization. Mischievous smear campaigns are hardly an effective way to garner support for one’s cause, however, and there is now a campus full of angry people pitted against whoever is responsible for the flyers.

    Very little certainty has emerged from this case thus far, but it is clear that whoever conceived and posted these flyers must step forward quickly, so this bizarre incident can be put behind us as quickly as possible. Granted that if the guilty party steps forward this week, they will have the added bonus of coming clean during Hate-Free Campus Week, which is sponsored by the Student Office of Human Relations (an event that, for the Orwell aficionados among us, might be a strange reminder of the ecstatic celebration of Hate Week by the characters in the novel “”1984″”), but is nonetheless impeccably timed.

    This whole themed week — its title, at least — begs the question, shouldn’t every week be hate-free? At UCSD, we’ve shown a terrible willingness to tell ourselves that this is indeed the case; but in the past month especially, we’ve seemed to openly hate each other more than ever. The invoking of race by Students First! members and their supporters after they were disqualified from elections, the harassment of anti-war protestors on Library Walk and the similar harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and their allies while observing the Day of Silence on April 8, all point to a campus where people only seem to be able to express their opinions at the expense of others. This is indicative of a general polarization of American opinion: In all sorts of arenas, people currently hold such convergent opinions that they have absolutely no common ground with the opposing side on which to negotiate.

    The Sigma Chi flyers were perfectly timed to remind us, once again, that hatefulness still persists on campus and can involve such generic issues as resenting Greek organizations and irrational racial hatred as exemplified by the KKK. However, the people who quickly labeled the incident as a “”hate crime”” were jumping the gun a bit and were probably just reacting to the loaded KKK imagery on the flyer.

    A hate crime is defined by the California Association of Human Relations Organizations as “”any act of intimidation, harassment, physical force or threat of physical force … motivated either in whole or in part by hostility to [someone’s] real or perceived race, ethnic background, religious belief, sex, age, disability or sexual orientation, with the intention of causing fear or intimidation, or to deter the free exercise or enjoyment of any rights or privileges secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United State of California whether or not performed under color of law.””

    Under these guidelines, and without the knowledge of the actual creator of the flyers, it’s debatable whether the posting of the flyers actually falls under the category of a hate crime.

    One of the most important points to consider is that posting flyers that are in extremely bad taste is not a crime in and of itself. That is why scores of white-supremacist Web sites endure: Their content, however offensive and disgusting, is protected under the First Amendment. Under the law, it’s perfectly legal to have irrational, intense hatred; but it’s not, of course, permissible to act on this hatred and commit an act of violence or harassment. It seems as if nothing beyond a moral crime and a horrendous failure of judgment has occurred, because these flyers haven’t been proven to have caused any intimidation or act of violence, although the placement of the flyers on a school campus may have some effect on its classification.

    Yet the whole question of harboring hatred toward nonwhites and non-Christians may be irrelevant, as these flyers were probably made to damage Sigma Chi and simply used the offensive imagery to this end. The maker of the flyers, assuming it was not a Sigma Chi member, was merely trying to paint the organization as racist, so it’s conceivable that the guilty party doesn’t actually harbor any racism at all.

    Regardless of the actual role bigotry played in this regrettable incident, there is without a doubt the issue of dishonesty or, alternatively, fraud. If Sigma Chi was indeed responsible for the flyers, they were lying when they testified that they weren’t (and, more seriously, have huge problems judging what’s appropriate to put on their recruitment flyers); and if the source of the flyers was someone outside of Sigma Chi, they were committing fraud by falsifying the flyers and, in effect, posing as a member of the fraternity.

    But of course, everything, including the intent of the flyers in question, is absolute speculation at this point. It’s undeniable, though, that this incident has worsened the already riled-up campus climate at UCSD, and that we’d all be better served by resolving this incident as soon as possible by rooting out the party responsible for posting the flyers, exposing whatever hatred they harbor.

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