The Spectrum: Northwestern has become toxic for discussions about marginalized communities


Rodney Orr, Guest Columnist

This essay is part of The Spectrum, a weekly forum in our Opinion section for marginalized voices to share their perspectives. To submit a piece for The Spectrum or discuss story ideas, please email [email protected].

I am a minority in nearly every major identifier: racial, socioeconomic, religious, sexual orientation and mental health. Even the fact that I am left-handed makes me a minority and makes me a potential target for situational disadvantages. I have struggled to find my place in a world that seems to reject every facet of my life. I grew up feeling like less of a person and like I never had a voice.

My first experience with my identity, specifically my race, came after I transferred from a majority black charter school in fifth grade to a majority white private school in sixth grade. I had always known I was different; I didn’t “talk black” or enjoy rap music or grow up in the city like my black friends did. My peers called me white. I started to believe them. I thought I would find sanctity in a white school, but I was wrong. My black friends told me I was too white, while my white friends told me I wasn’t black enough. I felt stuck, lost without any clear identity to call my own.

I began pursuing my passion for diversity work, social justice and mental health advocacy my sophomore year of high school. I swore I would never idly stand by and let anyone else experience the pain I had been through. Since then, I have become an advocate for mental health reform, a volunteer counselor for LGBT youth and an assistant teacher for inner-city schools. I still weep after countless black lives are lost at the hands of injustice.

Coming to Northwestern, I craved a place for myself where I could be free, a craving I found appeased in Greek life. Joining a social fraternity might seem contradictory to everything I expressed a passion for earlier; I’ll be the first to admit there are many aspects of Greek life with which I strongly disagree — hell, I’d go as far as to say I hate. But being in a fraternity has also shown me the passions, struggles, joys and fears of members of the community who are often stigmatized for being Greek. I decided to ultimately run for — and become — president of my fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, because I saw men struggle as I did, and I wanted to keep to my vow to always be there when people needed me.

Although I was impressed with Christina and Macs’ platform, as some know, I endorsed Joji and Archie’s campaign in the recent ASG presidential election. So far, this column has focused on my own background, rather than my endorsement of the candidates. As I stated in my official endorsement, I found both candidates extremely competent and passionate about their causes. When I met with Joji and Archie, we discussed the lack of university resources tailored specifically toward the mental health, sexual health and well-being of Greek members. In addition, we talked about how athletes do not have access to sports-specific mental health counseling and that there was no ground-up approach to tackle sexual assault, hazing and mental health issues — instead we’re forced to rely on the school to make administrative changes. Finally, we discussed how alcohol policy affects everyone on campus, not just Greek students.

So if I am happy with both of the candidates, why am I writing this letter? It is because the rhetoric surrounding this campaign is poisonous to our community. I cannot understand why minority members of the community, both Greek and non-Greek, were ridiculed for supporting Joji and Archie. I cannot understand why people continued to criticize Joji and Archie for not focusing enough on marginalized groups when both of them mentioned in the debate sponsored by The Daily that addressing the issues of marginalized voices was their first priority.

Our campus has become so toxic that anyone — even a minority student — who shares any dissent with an opinion of a marginalized group is considered hateful. We should not be using a “you’re either with me or against me” mentality when discussing these issues. I have spent my entire life feeling like my voice doesn’t matter, so the fact that I now fear ostracism from my own communities for giving my endorsement is disheartening, unfair and unjust. We as marginalized individuals should not be excluding others for disagreeing. We should call people in, not call people out.

As president of my fraternity, I must represent all of my members; not only the white, straight, Christian, cisgender, wealthy and mentally healthy brothers but also the 36 percent non-white, the 76 percent non-Christian, the 41 percent NU scholarship-dependent and the 51 percent mentally unhealthy (now or at some point in time) brothers in the chapter. Anyone who thinks these voices don’t matter because they disagree with some of the issues at hand is marginalizing a key part of the NU community based on their Greek identity.

I refuse to let my voice be silenced by anyone anymore, even other minority or marginalized students. I refuse to let those I love feel like they can’t share their opinions and ideas. I will not choose between my Greek identity and my minority identity. I’m a minority, I’m Greek and I’m proud of both of those.

Rodney Orr is a SESP sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.