Orr: I have not forgotten importance of inclusion, change within IFC community

Rodney Orr, Op-Ed Contributor

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I have remained largely absent in the public eye with regard to the conversations surrounding the Greek community. This has been intentional. I have lowered my voice so that others may be heard louder, particularly those of survivors of sexual violence and those who feel unsafe in our spaces. It has been these voices that have continued to demand that we stare in the eyes of the ugly reality of violence and toxic heteromasculinity that still exists.

When I first came to Northwestern, I spent the majority of Fall Quarter of my freshman year alone in my dorm room. My high school years were equally as lonely, as I never felt that I had the support of my friends. I felt forgettable, like I was in a glass container banging on the walls, but nobody could hear me, and never wanted to see me. The fact that these feelings continued into my college career terrified me. It was a wakeup call that I could not continue the path I was heading down. That’s how Greek life found me.

This letter is not a defense of the oppressive structures that still exist within the Interfraternity Council; on the contrary, it is an outward acknowledgement of the systems which create spaces where members of the Northwestern community continue to feel unsafe. One of the most difficult decisions I have made was to become a leader in a community that was originally created to exclude people like me. Because of this reality, I have decided to work to restructure it. Being the first black president of Northwestern’s IFC in institutional memory has been one of the proudest and most humbling accomplishments I’ve made. I feel a double consciousness as I try to accept that to deconstruct the problems within our community, I have had to become a part of the problems myself. Knowing that I am the face of a community that has caused implicit and explicit trauma to members of my own social identities is painful, to say the least.

Northwestern is an institution where the sidewalks can feel desolate. Often I see the faces of people who stare in the distance or at the ground as they walk from obligation to obligation. This school can drain people emotionally, and students can become absorbed into the fast-paced, cutthroat, career-driven environment. I’ve seen it happen too often to people I love. I want to give a voice those who fear becoming invisible in campus culture. I want people who feel isolated, alone or like they do not matter to know that they can find themselves. I want marginalized members to know that they can thrive in the community and discover their own voice. These are lessons that even I still continue to learn.

I believe IFC can become a place where everyone can feel like they belong, not through disregarding identities, but rather with careful consideration and support of their individuality and experiences. But, as a whole community, we are not there yet. Recent discussions regarding sexual violence have highlighted this. We cannot pretend it does not happen in our community, as this only renews the oppressive cycle. Instead of proclaiming that we or our members are immune to these issues, be hypercritical and ask, “How are we perpetuating these structures, and what can we do to change them?”

I ran for IFC president on the platform of mental wellness, community safety, financial accessibility and inclusivity. I believe all of these are connected. My goals are not some grand accomplishments where boxes can be checked off. Instead, they require an extensive alteration of the perspectives and ideologies of members who are complacent or actively participating in rhetoric that marginalizes others. It is only then that the policy changes — such as restructured risk management, survivor support training and a scholarship endowment for low-income members, to name a few — will begin to be understood. Changing ideologies of people can be difficult, but I will continue to work side-by-side with community leaders to progress our community.

To the Northwestern student body, particularly women, minority and LGBTQ people who have felt excluded from or hurt by our community, I know that no words that I write or speak can fully mend that pain. There are many experiences and struggles you have faced that I cannot pretend to understand, but there are many experiences and struggles that we may share in common. Please know that I have not forgotten you, forgotten my roots and identities or forgotten that you matter. It drives me in everything I do.

I hope that Northwestern students remain critical of the IFC community and consistently challenge us. If we cannot continue to progress, then we cannot continue to exist. At times we will falter, make mistakes and stumble. But we will keep trying and keep pushing. We must.

Rodney Orr is a SESP junior. He can be contacted at rodneyorr2018@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.