The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Of The Theta Tau Incident

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Of The Theta Tau Incident

I grew up in the exotic land of New Jersey, and one of the greatest benefits of deriving from the Garden State was the melting pot it was of various races, religions, orientations, and more. When describing myself, I identify as a Caucasian, Hispanic, straight, male person with disabilities; the paramount word in that description being, “person.”

 

By now, we’ve all seen or at least heard about those notorious videos and alleged illicit behavior at Theta Tau’s fraternity house. The student body, faculty, staff, community, and in fact, nation, jointly agreed that it did not accurately reflect that of Syracuse University or its populous. Disturbing as it was, particularly as a Latin person with disabilities, my logic-based rationale felt it sensible to analyze the situation and determine the takeaways. Below is my assessment.

 

The Good

Student action in the days and weeks following the release of the first video surprised me. I was incredibly happy to witness the student body from all of the Syracuse University schools, and at all academic levels, actively participating in the freedoms I and so many others have given so much to assure. Along the side of the Newhouse School’s exterior in large print reads the befitting words of the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

 

I applaud student activism, and further commend both DPS and SPD for their extremely respectful handling of peaceful student activism. We are fortunate to have them. Moreover, Chancellor Kent Syverud’s responses were timely, continuous, and thorough. His near-daily emails provided necessary up-to-date information to SU while preserving the integrity of the investigation. It is difficult to even imagine undertaking this challenge that was suddenly presented to him, however, he did so with measured action, is in the process of changing numerous policies, and is ensuring fair and expeditious proceedings against those involved. Bravo, Chancellor! So far, so great!

 

The Bad

The behavior of the students involved was nothing short of atrocious. Any legal recourse against the students, which could potentially rest on the concept of indirect causation for the charge of libel, would be only a remote possibility at best. While we bask in the protections of the First Amendment, a sometimes unfortunate byproduct is that people are legally entitled to be ignorant, immature, obscene, uncivilized individuals, as we’ve recently witnessed.

 

I know personally what it is to be bound to a wheelchair, following injuries I sustained during military service and the surgeries that followed. Additionally, I’ve been the subject of flagrant discrimination before coming to Syracuse, including being denied service, enduring racial slurs, and have even been spit at in my face. Despite this, I am patient enough to set aside my desire to retaliate, understanding that some people are simply unaware of the absurdity of pointing out such miniscule differences between individuals, and especially to do so in such a derogatory, degrading fashion.

 

Further, this event has cast an unduly negative impact to the reputation of Greek life, the student body, and millennials, which is simply unfair. In fact, some have displaced resentment at SU itself, including activism in front of the Chancellor’s residence, despite efforts to thwart or deter this or other classless behavior. This includes Title IX posters being affixed throughout the campus in prominent locations, mandating new students to undergo sexual harassment training during orientation, and many other efforts. These were implemented well before this latest incident.

 

The Ugly

We’ve all heard it before, but anything in digital form, including statements, photos, or videos, never truly disappears-even with a deceiving 10-second, single view Snap option. Believing otherwise is a disservice to yourself, even if a page is “private” or “secret”. The amount of personal information available to the general public is vast and likely more than most realize. On the other hand, someone like myself with significant computer and cyber experience digging for 20 minutes can likely find out past and present employers and addresses, credit history, social and personal relationships, buying practices, and even what color the wallpaper is in your bathroom. The bottom line is, if it’s been digitized, it’s attainable. Just ask Jennifer Lawrence, Kiersten Dunst, or Miley Cyrus. The repercussions can be long-lasting and in some instances life-changing, affecting reputation, prospective employment, or even romantic prospects. If you don’t believe me, deny that you look at the mutual connections of someone you swipe right to.

 

The Opportunity

We can all learn from this. SU has the chance to turn a crisis into a model of how to deal with similar situations at other institutions. While some might fear this could damage the reputation of the University, its reputational bank, along with the response thus far, may contribute to an even more positive image than it has already earned. Last semester, well before any of this, one Newhouse professor I had taken a class with articulated it best when he said, “If you don’t want your grandchildren to see it, don’t post it.” Moreover, use social media to your advantage by creating new professional profiles on sites such as LinkedIn, and cleaning up your old ones such as Facebook. This is an opportunity in your life to lay a solid foundation that will follow you wherever you go. Might as well make it a positive one!

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Rob Rivera
A graduate of the United States Army Military Intelligence School in Arizona and the Union Emergency Medical Services Academy in New Jersey, he has continued on in his educational career completing an A.S. in Criminal Justice, an A.A. in Education, and a B.S. in National Security Studies, all with Highest Honors. He is concurrently pursuing a Master in Public Relations at Newhouse School of Communications, an Executive Master in International Relations at the Maxwell School, and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Global Security at the Institute for National Security and Counter-Terrorism in advance of the completion of his terminal degree; a D.Sci. in Civil Security at NJCU.

Rob has dedicated his life to the service of others, including a dozen years in the United States Army and a decade in emergency services. He is an alumni of the Wounded Warrior Project and a registered first responder and non-financial contributor/donor to the National 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City. Robert is highly experienced in both working under pressure in extreme situations, problem solving and formulating effective solutions. An ability to comprehend complex issues and think outside of the box gives him a unique advantage.

He is experienced in graphic design, owns a professional photography business, and is a former Production Manager for a community tabloid. In addition, Rob is an experienced club DJ, having played for music festivals and traveled throughout the United States. In his spare time, he produces dance tracks at his project studio in Syracuse, NY.

His volunteer affiliations include the Salvation Army's Emergency Disaster Services, Team Rubicon and numerous emergency service entities. As a reflection of his dedication to service, he was presented with the US Presidential Volunteer Service Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2015, on behalf of President Barack Obama, in addition to receiving the US Army Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal twice.

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