College fraternities often run afoul of their national leadership for alcohol or hazing violations. A Texas chapter's suspension for denouncing the fraternity's ties to Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy is surely a first.
Kappa Alpha Order chapter at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, posted a statement saying the chapter was making “internal efforts to distance” its members from the Confederacy and Lee, who is recognized as the “spiritual founder” of the fraternity. It also called on the national organization to sever ties to Lee and stated “anything short of a public denouncement ... works against our morals and doesn't allow us to engage our community in the way that it deserves us to.”
“KA nationally has a deeply troubling history that active chapters can no longer cry ignorance to; our chapter has a duty to step up and force changes that will produce more compassionate and well-rounded young men,” according to the statement.
But shortly after it was posted, the national organization suspended the chapter for the rest of the year. The organization's executive director said they didn't have a problem with the Texas chapter's intent, but with the way the statement was handled.
“I would've hoped that the message itself would've outweighed any policy,” Jeremy Wilson, a member of the college chapter, told Inside Higher Ed. “Because it was the right thing to do.”
The leader of the Confederate army was not a member of the fraternity but is honored as a “spiritual founder” because he was president of Washington University at the time the fraternity was founded there. Today, it is known as Washington and Lee University.
Wilson said the Southwestern chapter has been hampered by the fraternity's legacy, which discourages students of color from joining.
Fraternity suspensions often come at the urging of university administrators. In this case, Southwestern University president Laura E. Skandera Trombley supports the chapter.
“They are indeed making 'good trouble' that will encourage our community to have open discussion about examining the past, re-envisioning how we understand each other, while giving us direction to shape a shared future,” she said in a statement.