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News Opinion Editorial

Morgan's teachable moment [Editorial]

Morgan State University officials not only had the right but the duty to sanction a campus fraternity for rejecting a student's membership application because he was gay. Much of the ethos of college Greek organizations lies in the pride they take in long-standing traditions of selectivity and exclusivity, even when pushed to ridiculous extremes. But schools are under no obligation to honor that legacy when it unlawfully discriminates against other students or is used to justify hateful expressions of bigotry.

In October, senior Brian Stewart filed a formal complaint with the university alleging that the school's chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity turned him down for membership because of his sexual orientation. Mr. Stewart, a business major and former White House intern, said he had long dreamed of joining the organization and was stunned when it rejected him the day after his interview, apparently without even considering his academic accomplishments.

It was only later that Mr. Stewart said he realized the group had rejected him because of he is gay. As evidence of the group's reason for denying him entry, he cited social media messages someone had sent him showing that several of the fraternity members considering his application had used an anti-gay slur. He said he was no longer interested joining the fraternity but wanted to raise awareness on campus regarding the issue of anti-gay bias.

The university conducted an investigation that concluded the Morgan chapter of the fraternity, called Alpha Iota, had violated the school's policy against discrimination. This week a spokesman for the college said a disciplinary panel made up of students, faculty and staff had put the fraternity on probation until the fall of 2015. The decision means the group cannot register as an official organization, participate in university-sponsored events or host events on or off campus. University officials declined to comment on whether individual members of the fraternity had been disciplined in addition to the sanctions imposed on the group.

If anything good can be said to have come out of this incident it is the response of Morgan students who rallied to Mr. Stewart's side once word of what had happened to him spread. Several hundred young people have participated in two campus-wide discussions about discrimination against gay people since Mr. Stewart's complaint was filed, and university officials have issued strong statements vowing that anti-gay bigotry has no place on Morgan's campus and will not be tolerated. This was an important learning experience — a so-called teachable moment — for everyone involved, including the fraternity members whose thoughtless acts sparked the controversy and their counterparts in other Greek organizations on campus.

Or at least we hope it will be. The refusal of any member of the Alpha Iota Chapter to publicly discuss the fraternity's actions or offer an apology for its treatment of Mr. Stewart leaves in doubt whether the attitudes that originally sparked this imbroglio have really changed. Even more disappointing is the silence from the national fraternity, which should be taking the lead in urging its local chapters to accept applicants regardless of sexual orientation. That's what other black organizations such as the NAACP and the Urban League have done.

The historically black Greek organizations were created during an earlier era when black college students, like other African-Americans, were isolated and marginalized by the larger society because of the color of their skin. They would lose their moral compass were they now to impose the same cruel forms of social exclusion on others because of their sexual orientation. Honoring the diversity among today's students ought to be as cherished a tradition as any fraternity rite. Anything less dishonors the legacy of their forebears' own long commitment to both education and social justice.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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