Letter to the Editor: ‘Jail-and-Bail’ philanthropy event inherently offensive

Ajay Nadig

Kappa Kappa Gamma’s “Jail-and-Bail” is, as I understand it, an event during which members of the sorority dress up as “prison inmates,” and have friends and others pay to “free” them from the “mock jail.” For some, it may not be obvious why this is offensive. Let me lay it out:

1. The Greek system is an economically selective social institution that dominates campus in many ways. Many on campus wish to join and are accepted by Greek organizations but cannot afford it. It is an economic overclass. The connection to Marie Antoinette is devastating and obvious: the hated royal constructed a fake village where she enjoyed playacting as a peasant, pretending to be “poor.” Given this, the fact that a group of wealthy Northwestern students are “playacting” at being prisoners (most of whom are poor) is a blatant belittling of the realities of mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex.

2. The Greek system is overwhelmingly white. Note that I’m not saying it is racially selective (although there are people who would argue this). I’m just saying that the Greek system is 71 percent white. In a situation in which roughly 40 percent of incarcerated people in this country are black, “Jail-and-Bail” leads to the same situation presented in my first point, except this time with regard to race.

A few counterarguments are ubiquitous whenever presenting a view like this:

One may suggest that I am being oversensitive because nobody is actively being racist. The biggest disservice one can do to this argument is to say that since no harm was intended, no harm is done. Many of my friends are in Greek life and are very cognizant of the racism and classism that is ubiquitous at places like NU. What we need to recognize is that the most pernicious instances of these awful things occurs when nobody in particular is to blame — rather, when a system at large is at fault. It falls upon Greek life to be extra cognizant, not upon others to have thicker skins.

One may also suggest that this event is absolved by the fact that it raises money for charity. I respect that work is being done for charity, but I think an “ends justifies the means” argument is silly given that there are infinitely many philanthropic event ideas that can raise money without all of this baggage.

Lastly, and most importantly, I’m not saying Greek life is inherently bad (and again, many would). I’m asserting that if we want to look toward a future where Greek organizations are thoroughly integrated, economically and racially, where our social lines on campus aren’t identical to economic and racial lines, this is the kind of thought process we need to have.

Ajay Nadig
Weinberg sophomore