Unpacking the Butterfly Effect of Facundo Element’s Words to Gallaudet U’s Delta Sigma Phi

This morning I logged onto Facebook to see a disturbing (to me) post on the FE: Butterfly Effect’s Facebook page. The post was a open letter from Facundo Element (FE) to Gallaudet University’s Delta Sigma Phi (DSP) pledges, brothers & alumni regarding a flyer that they circulated promoting a pageant-style event.

This letter bothers me so I have decided to blog about it, even though I avoid blogging about things like this, because to be honest all I know about this situation is hearsay and after the fact.

Here is the post in its entirety and the flyer side by side for you to draw your own conclusions from.  Under these photos I am copying and pasting the letter itself and, coining what seems to be FE’s favorite term, unpacking it point by point.

I have sprinkled in some random (and not so random) images off the internet to accompany my words – partly because they add some spice to the post, partly because some of them have significance to me and what I’m saying, my inferences and opinions.

Google Chromesnapped004dsp_flyer

Interesting.  At first glance does that flyer look very sexist or racist to you?  How about your second glance?  A closer, deeper look?

In the first place, I believe that the words “racism” and “sexism” are very, very powerful words that should be used judiciously, and only if you’re absolutely certain that they apply.  They should never be used lightly, and liberally.  And now on to the unpacking

A Letter to GU DSP Pledges, Brothers & Alumni:

frat_party

Singling out DSP and all its members?  There are plenty of other fraternities that have produced even more salacious flyers.  For example, here’s a pretty tame one I found on Google Image search.  Why not go after the U.F.F.?  In fact, googling “sorority party flyer” yielded quite a few provocative results too.  Why not address all of them?

In my opinion, DSP’s flyer is nothing like this one, and actually included a bare… shoulder… and what I saw as an uplifting message in support of women – “Every woman is meant to shine, thrive & evolve.”  OK…  this from a college fraternity?  That just seems so… respectful.

In light of the rising number of solidarity actions amongst DSP brothers & alumni from Gallaudet University, we’d like to share some concerns.

“Solidarity” means unity and fellowship.  So FE is concerned about the rising number of actions of unity and fellowship amongst DSP members?  Isn’t this the whole point of brotherhood?  Of sisterhood, even?  *ahem* Deafhood, perhaps?  And “rising number”?  Hmm…

Without details, this appears to be a fancy sentence emphasizing that FE’s concerns apply to all DSP members, and specifically DSP members, whether or not they actually had anything to do with this particular controversy, simply because they’ve closed ranks and stand unified in a “rising number” of unified actions.  Rising number.  Solidarity actions.  Concerns.  These three “buzz” terms, I believe, serves to lend a foreboding sense of alarm to this letter.  It certainly grabbed my attention, in the same way a news headline saying “Rising Number of Terrorist Actions in Saudi Arabia raises Concerns” would have.

Please be aware that the act of men banding in solidarity against a woman, especially a woman of color, evokes very frightening images. It evokes problematic fraternal behavior of covering up rapes, sexual harassment, and mistreatment of women. It is oppressive. We hope this is not what you want to convey.

With this paragraph, FE has, again using a word they often use themselves, framed DSP’s unity and fellowship as being “frightening” and “oppressive” against women, and “especially a woman of color”, which, in the context of this letter, paints a sordid picture in my mind of DSP members generally cavorting and caterwauling around women.  Worse, they’re also banding in solidarity against a single woman.  

The picture has now become a demon-scape of beer-chugging, mostly white boys engaging in blatant sexism, wanton racism, and banding together in unity and fellowship against a particular woman.  As if this wasn’t enough, we have another statement – “problematic fraternal behavior of covering up rapes, sexual harassment and mistreatment of women.”  That’s just adding an element of gore.  Gustav Doré would have had a field day with this picutre.

Gustave_Doré_-_Miguel_de_Cervantes_-_Don_Quixote_-_Part_1_-_Chapter_1_-_Plate_1_-A_world_of_disorderly_notions,_picked_out_of_his_books,_crowded_into_his_imagination-Whether DSP members actually behave like that or they don’t is not the point.  The point is that this paragraph has framed DSP as a problematic fraternity that covers up incidents of rapes, sexual harassment and mistreatment of women by their members.

By writing this paragraph (and the rest of this letter), I believe that FE is using… (wait for it…) sensationalism to accomplish this framing.  Oh wow, an “ism”!!  In any case, do you think DSP members may feel oppressed by being framed like this?  “Oh he’s a frat brother, they all like to guzzle beer and ogle boobs and rape dates.  Don’t go out with him!”  I hope that this is not what FE wants to convey?

Please be aware that acts of solidarity come with risks; sometimes people jump on the bandwagon without first critically interrogating all aspects of the situation at hand. You are a human being first and foremost. Remember that and respect others humanity, too.

Having effectively alleging and framing DSP’s fraternal “acts of solidarity” as “problematic” in the previous paragraph, FE goes on to warn people to look before they leap (I assume to DSP’s support), reminds us all to respect each other like the human beings we are.  By issuing this warning FE is subtly framing themselves as human beings “first and foremost” who have “critically interrogated” all aspects of this particular controversy.  And by saying that “acts of solidarity” come with risks, FE appears to be also warning people that standing with DSP in this situation is… risky.  As if anyone would stand with this sexist and racist band of merry men!

I want to add that the term “interrogation” carries a much more negative impact than if they were to use the more socially responsible (IMHO) word “investigation”.  DSP is being “interrogated” here, not “investigated”.  I invite you to examine these two words and unpack your emotional responses to them.  Unpack also, the various possible reasons why one term is used here instead of the other.

With this paragraph FE is maneuvered into an position of authority that gives more weight to their words.  They’re human beings who warned us to keep our eyes open and told us to be respectful of others’ humanity, so they must be practicing what they’re preaching, right?  They’re looking out for us, right?  Because they’re looking out for us they wrote a respectful, humane letter to DSP on our community’s behalf, no?

We saw the flyer. We- through the lens of our own unpacking- do see racism and sexism in the flyer.

Jeremy_BrettWhat flyer?  It should be noted that FE’s letter to DSP (on Facebook at least) contained no links to the flyer nor did it profess any other specific and concrete examples (or evidence) of anything else they claimed.  It was only through a comment by someone else I found the flyer.

By not including the flyer or any other examples, FE calls the reader to focus only on their words and the message that they wish to convey.  That there IS racism and sexism in the flyer.  They saw it.  Oh wow, they saw it!  Like they saw someone getting mugged down the street.  Remember, they’ve already established their authority on this subject in the third paragraph after framing DSP in a certain, unsavory way.

Because of this you, the reader, are more likely to infer that what they saw was bad.  So we are not surprised when the ugly words racism and sexism are used in this context, and because of the initial framing of DSP, we are inclined to believe it true.

A group of men (and men only) choosing to feature a woman, to feature a woman in a very specific way, and to make comments about her path to achieving empowerment is sexist.

We’re just talking about this flyer, right?  Or are we talking about the objective of the event, which I heard was a kind of a pageant to find a “Miss Cleopatra”?  DSP, as a group of men, has been framed as sexist for expressing their opinion, that women are meant to shine, thrive and evolve like Cleopatra, or at least like DSP’s ideal Cleopatra.  Sexist, all, for orchestrating an event, a competition, that would feature a specific woman that meets that ideal.

Look at the evocative language used in this sentence:  Men only.  Choosing to feature a woman.  In a very specific way.  And making comments about her. This is being read in the context of the demonic picture that FE has painted of DSP.  Oh yeah, those dastardly DSP brothers are up to absolutely no good!  Pretty evocative language, isn’t it?

For them to feature a woman who has been historically debased by men is sexist.

For FE to construe this sentence (and the preceding one) as a fact is, in my opinion, quite irresponsible. It is FE’s opinion that DSP’s use of an image of an white woman dressed up as Cleopatra in their flyer is sexist. An opinion, nothing more, but an opinion that FE presented as a fact. Calling a person or a group “sexist” does not really make them sexists, you know?  Was the woman dressed as Cleopatra in the flyer sexist?  Did the photographer who took her picture take advantage or debase her?  Did DSP practice sexism when they used this picture on their flyer?  Does FE have any right to make these statements factually?

As you know sexism is discrimination of the opposite sex.  How did DSP discriminate against Cleopatra or other women in this flyer or with their planned pageant?  To me sexism would be excluding Cleopatra and other women from this flyer and their event simply because… they’re women!  But doesn’t that seem to be what FE wants?

Cleopatra_and_Caesar_by_Jean-Leon-GeromeCleopatra is a historical, almost mythical, and celebrated figure that means many things to many people.  To some she is the epitome of power and beauty – someone to be looked up to and revered, and whose name is a honor to bear.  To others she is an oppressed woman, used by men and whose virtue is historically debased by wild, booty-chasing frat boys.

Marilyn Monroe.  Whitney Houston.  History is full of these iconic women and they are also perceived in many different ways, good and bad.  Perhaps Cleopatra would have gotten a kick out of how men and women continue to impersonate, idealize, idolize and, yes, even sexualize her for thousands and thousands of years after her death?  Perhaps not, but who is FE to speak for the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt and arguably the most important woman in history?  Who is FE to decide what is sexist and what is not when it comes to how people perceive the legacy and image of Cleopatra VII Philopator?

Now, if only FE had said this instead: “For them to feature a woman who has been historically debased by men can be considered sexist.”  This changes the tone of that statement from accusatory to merely introspective.  It still wouldn’t be factual, though, as the “debased” part is very debatable.  To make this statement completely factual, one could say “For them to feature a woman who is believed to have been historically debased by men can be considered sexist.”

Alas, for some reason, this did not happen.

For a predominantly white group to take a woman whose race has been debated, and not quite agreed upon, and make a decision that she was white by featuring a white woman on the flyer as though you are an authority on race is racist.

According to FE’s logic in this sentence, a predominantly black group cannot feature Cleopatra as black either.  Or as asian by an asian group.  Simply because her race is a matter of debate.  Right?  If DSP depicted Cleopatra as black, or asian, would FE still have called this racist?  White Christians see Jesus as a white man, though this is actually also debatable.  Are they all racists?  By that logic are black Christians who see Jesus as black racists too?  Or are they sexist because they see Jesus as a man and not a woman?  By this logic, everyone who sees, mentions or depicts a historical or mythical person in a certain color is racist.  Period.

In fact, there are black people who are so light-skinned that they could pass for white.  A light-skinned Cleopatra or a dark-skinned Cleopatra is still Cleopatra.  I’m sorry, but FE does NOT have the authority to call someone who believes and depicts Cleopatra as a white woman a racist.

Ku_Klux_Klan_members_march_down_Pennsylvania_Avenue_in_Washington,_D.C._in_1928Not to mention the use of the words “predominantly white” – in this sentence they have framed DSP as a white-dominated, self-professed authority on race who took a woman and made an decision on her race that they have no right to make.

In my opinion, FE is using Cleopatra as the brush and pail to tar and feather the DSP fraternity as sexists and racists because they have decided to depict her as a white woman.  Is this being humane or respecting DSP’s humanity or their right to honor and/or revere Cleopatra and other women as they see fit?  How about respecting women who might want to be honored and/or revered by DSP in this way?

Please understand that we realize you may not have intended for this to be the impact of your flyer, of your event, but the impact is there.

Is the impact really due to the flyer itself or is it due to FE’s publicly unpacking it through their lens and framing it in their words?  Remember, it’s a free country.  If women want to go and be objectified (one perspective) or honored (another perspective) at DSP’s event, then they have every right to do so.  If DSP wants to put a white Cleopatra on their flyer, then this is protected by our very First Amendment, and they have every right to do so.  If FE wishes to speak out, share their opinion and protest against the flyer and the event on moral grounds, then yes, they also have every right to do so under the same First Amendment.

However, FE labeling, or framing, DSP members as sexists and racists, and doing so publicly in a “factual” manner, is actually against the law.  It is called libel.  Go ahead, look it up.  If I were the President of Gallaudet’s DSP fraternity, I’d seriously look into bringing a civil suit against FE based on this letter.  DSP has every right to do so, especially if they lost revenue or suffered damages due to FE’s framing them as sexist and racist.  DSP pledges quitting due to a public shaming and brothers being shunned on campus.  Who knows?

The fact remains that DSP’s character, as a group of men, has been defamed by this open letter written by Facundo Element.  They were also targeted specifically as a group of predominantly white men sharing a solidarity purpose, branded as sexists and racists for putting out a flyer with a white-looking Cleopatra and for planning a pageant in her name.  This leads me to question who is really practicing sexism and racism here?

I realize that FE may not have intended this to be the impact of their letter, but the impact is there.

We do not know what kind of dialogues you engaged in with women and POC on campus before or after releasing the flyer. We do not know whether the brothers of your organization reviewed and had concerns about the flyer, whether they checked in with anyone, whether they spoke up, before releasing it. We do not know whether you were open to possibly changing your flyer picture or theme in light of concerns that came up.

Now this paragraph seems to be an attempt to absolve FE of any possible misrepresentation that they may have done in their letter (because they just dunno anything, right?), and also doing so in a way that frames DSP for being grossly negligent if they have done none of these things.  I wonder how it would sound if we applied the same principles to FE themselves:

We do not know what kind of dialogues FE has engaged in with men, women, this POC on campus, or even with DSP before or after releasing this letter.  We do not know whether the members of the FE organization reviewed and had concerns about the letter, whether they checked in with anyone (a lawyer perhaps), whether they spoke up, before releasing it.  We do not know whether FE was open to possibly changing the wording of their letter or the tone it carries in light of the constitutionally protected freedoms that everyone has a right to.

We do know that we all make mistakes, we all need to learn from those mistakes. We hope you will take this time to find compassion within to understand how the flyer may have hurt women and people of color, how it may still hurt that so many are forming a male wall that feels very intimidating. Be your own person, with your own mind.

Yes, we all make mistakes.  Not everyone learns from them, though.  I hope that Facundo Element takes the time to understand how their letter may have hurt Gallaudet University’s Delta Sigma Phi’s fraternity, and possibly other fraternal organizations, and how it may continue to build an intimidating wall between Facundo Element’s organization and the community it has sworn to remove oppression and misrepresentation from.

I am my own person, with my own mind.  Everything I said here is my own opinion.

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Lee’s been a college student, a relief staff for a group home, a night residential educator (houseparent) for a high school dorm, a painter, a sheetrock hanger, a carpenter’s assistant, a construction worker, a forklift driver, and finally a creative professional with more than 10 years experience. He’s a Partner at Satdaya, LLC, and helps manage several brands under that firm; Satdaya Studios, Eventida, and VAME.  His passions include cooking and devouring deliciously easy meals, reading all kinds of books, playing video games, R/C helicoptering, walking, swimming, biking, yoga and any number of leisurely activities.  He loves his family.  He does not like gummy bears, freezing temperatures, or roaches of the scurrying kind.  Lee has dreamed of being a writer since childhood, so creating Impact Mind has given him the perfect opportunity to share his passion with the world.

2 Comments

  1. ridor9th says:

    YES!! When I read your article, I nodded repeatedly. You said it all. Thanks!!

    R–

  2. Brent says:

    Wow, this was fantastic. Very well written. I am very impressed with you investigation.

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