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A case of bias

Submitted by on 03.04.2013 – 10:17 pm 14 Comments

The Greek community has been under the microscope lately. After multiple tragic accidents and deaths in past years, the University of Idaho has sharpened its focus on underage drinking in Greek houses. Just a few short weeks ago, Joe Wiederrick passed away hours after reportedly drinking at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. After such events, the media have taken an interest in the university’s alleged “drinking culture.” I refer more specifically to Dee Sarton’s report “UI student deaths raise concern over ‘culture of drinking.’” The KTVB anchor traveled from Boise to Moscow to report and “investigate” Wiederrick’s death. Her report included interviews with UI Dean of Students Bruce Pitman, Moscow Police Lt. Dave Lehmitz and six university students.

I am a Greek student. Sarton’s report was unfair for multiple reasons. She includes a quote by a student: “They (Greeks) get away with so much. Every weekend there’s a party, and you always know about it. But the university doesn’t do anything to stop those kids from drinking underage … I think they could enforce it with the law. I think the cops should be called. They could break up parties. It’s not too difficult. I see it every day.”
This makes it sound like underage drinking is confined strictly to Greek houses. Underage drinking also happens in university housing — that’s a fact. There have been many cases of underage drinking and accidents in the dorms to which the media seemingly turn a blind eye. This student has the right to her opinion, but her opinion carries many stereotypes and hasty generalizations. For this reason, Sarton should have omitted this quotation due to its biased nature.
Of the six students she included in the story, zero of them belong to a Greek house. She neglected to interview a Greek student to get their point of view. If Sarton had any interest in giving an unbiased point of view, it would have been beneficial to include the perspective of someone involved in a Greek organization. But she didn’t.

I have two friends who knew Wiederrick. A great deal of sincerity and authenticity would have been added to the article had Sarton interviewed one of these two people, instead of six people completely unrelated to the incident.

It’s the Greek community who is blamed for the alcohol-related incidents. Wiederrick’s death had an enormous impact on the Greek community as a whole.
Another element that comes into play here is one of personal choice and responsibility. I have the utmost sympathy and give my deepest condolences to the Wiederrick family for what happened. Though events were unforeseeable, Wiederrick made the choice to come over and drink at the fraternity. Had Wiederrick been drinking in the dorms, then wandered out at night, would University Housing be under investigation? Would the media care as much? The Greek community is not taking the situation lightly, as numerous upcoming events have been either postponed or cancelled. Before jumping to conclusions and making generalizations, Sarton should have waited for more details to emerge and the toxicology report to be released, or at least done a more thorough investigation herself.
There is a trail of unanswered questions  leading to what actually happened that night. Details have been released, but not enough to trace exactly what happened. As a Greek student, I see many implicit stereotypes Sarton uses in her article — whether intentional or unintentional — and the average reader could have a negative perception of Greek life after reading it. Greek students have received an overall better GPA since at least 2006 compared to the all-student average, According to UI’s website. Every Greek house is required to complete a certain number of philanthropy hours and community service events.

Almost half of the students who live on campus belong to a Greek house. I’d be willing to bet that most of these students share my opinion on this report. Putting this negative slant on more than 30 percent of overall students at UI weakens the reputation of this community as a whole. It is surely not appreciated by myself and peers that Sarton would write this article in the manner she did.

Conor Gleason 

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  • Jason says:

    As a founding father of a fraternity at my own university, and someone extremely passionate about greek life, I would challenge the greek community to stop trying to shift the focus and take responsibility. Take action to prevent these things from happening, not diverting it by saying that drinking is a “college problem.” The facts remain that fraternities and sororities are centralized areas and groups where these activities are known to occur. Bias may be present in this report by Dee, or it may not. Either way fraternities and sororites need to take a hard look at their culture, not the culture of everyone around them.

  • Jason says:

    on a related note… this is NOT my fraternity, however, it is a perfect blog addressing my comment previously.

  • Rylee says:

    While I think that what you point out is valid and highlight that Dee’s report had a form of bias, I think that the shift should be focused elsewhere. While it is unfair to take a large scale of the burden for college drinking issues, greek houses should understand that in a sense they are the face of the university and therefore the ones that people will choose to focus on. Take that focus and turn it into something positive. Someone once told me that you can’t use your philanthropy hours and all the good that you do for the community as a clutch and an excuse to make poor choices. Having that on your resume should speak for itself and not be there as a back up when bad things happen. Along with that though the public should come to understand that drinking is a part of college. When parents send their children up here, they are assuming faith in their child to make smart decisions and therefore cannot put the blame on the University when something happens… When you turn 18 (generally the age people go to college) your parents are no longer responsible for you, and you and them both need to understand that.

  • David says:

    As I feel this is a well written article and don’t mean to nitpick. But regarding the Greeks having the best grades, aren’t there test banks in every house? Meaning any of the members have immediate answers to essentially any class?

    • Charles says:

      Sorry to continue the argument, but David, you are simply playing off of another greek stereotype. Old test files in our academic setting are basically useless. Given that most university officials are aware that test files are being stored, do you really think they would allow their professors to use the same tests year after year? You failed to consider how all greek houses have required study table hours and usually have rules regarding a members GPA directly influencing their house standing. If you have an argument, I ask that you try to broaden your points beyond the usual stereotypes, especially since this article is on the media stereotyping the greek community…

  • Bro says:

    First of all, why should the reporter have omitted that woman’s comment because it was biased? She’s not interviewing a professional; she is getting the opinion of a STUDENT who ATTENDS THE UNIVERSITY. Of course it’s going to be biased. It’s meant to get the conversation started.
    Second of all, sure…students in the dorms drink as well. However, there isn’t an inherent culture of partying in the dorms. There aren’t massive parties with invite lists containing hundreds of names in the dorms. This culture and these parties, however, go hand-in-hand with the Greek houses at the university. I’m sure I am not the only one who has heard rumors of the trouble your fraternity has been in whether it be alcohol or narcotics. Like I said, these are rumors but I am sure some of the rumors carry some truth. So why don’t you take a break from victimizing your “innocent” brotherhood and take at least a minimal amount of responsibility. That’s what the fraternities are all about, right? Leadership? Accountability?
    Students may drink in the dorms. Okay. That is something that can be looked in to. But Wiederrick wasn’t partying in the dorms before his death. He was at YOUR fraternity.
    And let’s not try to shift our focus to pointless facts about the community service you boys partake in. If that’s supposed to convince me that you are all law-abiding and well-rounded individuals then I guess I should look at law-breakers the same way.

    • Judd says:

      I mean I lived in the dorms and there were kids who would throw small parties and drink, and while there certainly werent as many people they were still drinking just as much alcohol and making terrible decisions (in some cases without anyone watching out for them), if anything greek houses are safer. we have older members watching over younger ones, we have executive boards and risk management monitoring the scene, AND we tend to know our limits more so than others who drink in non greek locations. The fact of the matter is, drinking isnt a college “problem” and a college “Culture”, its something the WORLD does, and people across the nation drink, we have bigger parties only because we arent on property owned by the university, apartments in Moscow throw huge parties all the time (one of these parties “led” to a death). If anything the Greek houses receive such a negative connotation because we put it in a controlled environment, which to me seems like a much better idea. Of the 5 alcohol related deaths at the U of I in the last decade, 3 werent greek… and this is if we include the recent one as a Greek involved death. So that leaves Greek row with 1 death. ONE. and I think 1 death is too many, the matter of the fact is, whether in greek houses, or in dorms people will end be in danger. Once again we have management to keep them safer to the best of their abilities. And furthermore trying to call out Conor and SAE for their “rumors” is complete BS, trying to base your argument on rumors you have heard about Greek row doesnt make them facts.

  • Taylor says:

    I don’t think Connor was attacking the dorms, but rather focusing on the nature in which this reporter handled the situation. The reporter focused on a side of the story that wasn’t well-represented by all groups involved. I think it’s fine to provide biased opinions, as long as you are countering that with the opposing ideas, which clearly wasn’t represented in this report.

    It’s frustrating that so much of the conflicts on this campus come down to name-calling between Greeks and Residence Hall Students. A student on campus tragically passed away, can we focus on handling the situation in a respectful manner and working towards a safer and healthier community of students regardless of living group that watch out for one another?

    Come on, start collaborating, obviously life is too short to keep up this pointless and pathetic argument.

  • Alex says:

    Sigma Alpha Epsilon was not founded to host parties and serve alcohol. No Greek organization was.

    Greeks exist to provide experiences, networks and resources to become better people, better leaders and develop a passion for a cause.

    It is actually detrimental that you note “Every Greek house is required to complete a certain number of philanthropy hours and community service events”. You are not required to throw parties…but you do it anyway. Because you do service, it makes breaking the law acceptable? Your quote suggest you wouldn’t do it if you weren’t required.

    Clearly there is a major issue. An issue of misunderstood purpose.

    You are “under a microscope” because you recited an oath, a mission or a creed that somehow included a commitment to not let these kind of tragedies happen. So be a man, be a human being, and stop letting them happen.

  • Vandal Dad says:

    With the exception of 11th graders, Idaho 9-12th graders rate higher on binge drinking than their national peers .

    Idaho students were more likely than their national peers to drive a car (one or more times in the past 30 days) after they had been drinking alcohol (12.9% Idaho, 9.9% U.S.)10.

    Based upon annual averages in Idaho, binge drinking among youth 12 to 17 years of age occurs in 11.64% of those surveyed.

    Idaho ranks comparably high (.63) nationally regarding alcohol related driving fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

    What gets overlooked is that binge drinking and alcohol related issues are not Greek issues, they’re not Dorm or off-campus issues, they’re State of Idaho issues. Kids come off the farms, out of their Boise, Pocatello or Coeur ‘D Alene homes and continue the same drinking that they did back home, but now they don’t have mom and dad to get upset.

    What does it say when Idaho’s own Senator gets arrested for DUI in DC? What does it say when a Canyon County Judge gets arrested for DUI? What does it say when a violator has over 10 DUI arrests in Idaho and still doesn’t go to jail?

    We’re all a bunch of hypocritical drunks in this state. You can’t let a kid spend years getting drunk then when they get to school at any college expect them to change. Wake up, this is your problem Idaho, Boise State, Idaho State, LCSC, thanks to the people of the Great State of Idaho. Now you fix the mess we all created.

  • Ken M says:

    The only good thing about “Greek” are the Gyros.

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