Last weekend, several members of the University of Florida’s and Emory University’s Zeta Beta Tau fraternity were in Panama City, Florida, when they were accused of harassing and spitting on United States military veterans and urinating on American flags.
The fraternity members visited Panama City for their spring formals, which coincided with one of the two annual Warrior Beach Retreat Inc. retreats. Warrior Beach Retreats Inc. is a nonprofit organization that sends 50 combat wounded veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and their families to Panama City Beach for a seven-day retreat hosted by local businesses in honor of their service to our country.
Linda Cope, the founder and current executive director of the organization, is the mother of a wounded veteran. Her son, Sgt. Joshua Cope, lost both of his legs and injured both of his hands following an IED blast while serving in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2006.
The event inspired his mother to start Warrior Beach Retreats Inc. to honor wounded veterans for their sacrifices. However, members of the latest retreat were subjected to the heinous and criminal behavior of the University of Florida and Emory University students.
“In all of my years, I’ve never seen such debauchery and disrespect,” Linda Cope told USA Today.
She also indicated that the women who were accompanying the fraternity members were also behaving disrespectfully. Since the incident was first reported, the Zeta Beta Tau chapter at the University of Florida has been shut down and a full investigation of the situation has been ordered. Meanwhile, Emory University has remained quiet about the incident. The perpetrators could also be subjected to criminal charges.
This incident comes on the backhand of a string of fraternity-related incidents that have received national attention over the past few months including the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma, which was shut down after a video surfaced of members singing racist chants. These incidents have caused many to question whether the problem lies within fraternity culture itself. The answer? Well yes, and no.
Many people like to treat fraternities as if they are all connected somehow, when in reality, every fraternity is different and has its own culture. The University of Florida chapter immediately expelled the members involved with this incident and the fraternity’s national headquarters was quick to condemn the student’s actions.
To say that there is a problem with fraternity culture nationally just is not true. Fraternities do a lot of great things.
They help students to adjust to college, build lifelong friendships, teach social skills such as networking and they raise millions of dollars for charity each year. Just look at some of the people who have been fraternity members. Sanford Weil, who is the CEO of Citigroup, the top-ranked business in the Forbes 500 list, was a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi at Cornell University. Dr. Seuss was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon during his time at Dartmouth University.
In fact, 17 of the last 25 United States presidents were fraternity members at some point. On a national scale, college fraternities are producing a lot of successful people.
It’s time that we stop calling for the end of all fraternities and start taking these incidents on case-by-case basis. The focus needs to be on fraternities’ national oversight, rather than their worth.
When a fraternity house starts to drift into creating a negative culture, it can be a slippery slope. Good fraternities don’t make bad people. Bad people make bad fraternities.