Dear Penn Kids:
Please, please, please, for the love of God: Would you stop being such schmucks?
Let me back up. Not all of you are schmucks. Many of you are good and earnest and smart, hard-working young people. But some of you have made a big mistake, and you need to understand that what you’ve done is a bit more than commit a PR gaffe. You’ve acted like real schmucks. You’ve made your fellow students look a bit schmucky by association. And you’ve hurt a few feelings along the way.
So I want you to understand why it’s important that you, of all people, need to not be such schmucks.
Let’s first of all discuss what brings us here: A little more than a week ago, two Greek organizations on campus — the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and the Chi Omega sorority — held a “mixer.” No problems there. The problem? It was “gangsta” themed, and, by all accounts, the theme wasn’t really intended to be respectful of anyone — least of all, people of color.
Race-based theme parties? Pretty schmucky.
Holding said party the same week that Chi Omega’s sister sorority at Penn State was completely shut down because of a similar, Mexican-themed party that left behind a handful of unfortunate photos? Extra schmucky. Almost self-destructively schmucky, in fact, because it’s appears Penn’s Chi Omega members couldn’t be bothered to draw a lesson from a matter that should’ve hit close to home.
And yes, all of that hurt feelings. “These parties mock certain cultures, people of lower-income status and/or people of color, ultimately dividing our campus,” some non-schmucky Penn students pointed out in the student paper a few days later.
All of this would be schmucky enough on its own. But coming from you guys, well, it’s super schmucky.
Why? Because you’ve got it better than everybody else.
You’re not actually kids, after all: You’re adults. Maybe you were raised with too much “faux” ironic comedy racism in your pop culture to know the difference, but making fun of other races? Not actually cool. So grow up.
What’s more, you’re adults who are getting an Ivy League education. This means a couple of things: First, you’re getting one of the best educations in the world, being armed with the tools to go out and do incredible things. It also means you’re being provided with a set of connections to other Penn alumni and Ivy Leaguers who will help open doors for you — not by virtue of anything you’ve accomplished, necessarily, but because of where you went to school. If you’re a member of a Greek organization, those connections will be multiplied.
Yes, you worked hard to earn your way into Penn. But you are also remarkably blessed. You would have to work very hard to waste your opportunities, to somehow end up a member of the underclass you mocked last week. You will get second and third and fourth chances, while the objects of your humor often won’t get first chances.
The result? Many of you will end up in positions of real power and importance: In Congress, in a presidential cabinet, or as leaders of businesses and governmental organizations in your hometowns; your attitudes and actions will have outsized effects on the rest of us. To do those jobs well, you will have to have the ability to look beyond your own experiences, to have empathy for folks who lacked your talent and opportunities.
With your actions, you have failed to demonstrate that ability. So far.
The good news, as ever, is that you will get those second and third and fourth chances. This isn’t the end of the line for you. You can choose differently. So please, prove to the rest of us that you deserve all the good opportunities and great connections that will accompany you through life. All you have to do is stop acting like such schmucks.
Follow @joelmmathis on Twitter.