How Campus Ethnic Groups Drive Political Conformity: An Interview with Brittney Morrett

Ashley Thorne

Thorne: Your article, “What Ethnocentrism Looks Like,” draws attention to the political activism of ethnocentric student organizations on college campuses. You cite one such group, La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc. (LUL), a fraternity with chapters at dozens of colleges and all the Ivy Leagues. LUL has stood against laws restricting illegal immigration (one of which would prevent illegal immigrants from receiving in-state tuition in Indiana), and several members of the fraternity are being held up as martyrs (the Indiana 5) since they were arrested for protesting the bills. You write in your article, “I wouldn’t want my money going to such an organization.” Are you saying that LUL’s strong stance on immigration is out of line for a university-sponsored (and at public universities, taxpayer-funded) organization?

Morrett: It’s bigger than that. It’s one thing if a group is an apolitical cultural/ethnic pride organization (although we should reflect on how certain groups are encouraged to have this kind of ethnic solidarity and others are condemned.) However, you can’t portray yourself as an apolitical cultural organization and then start expressing opinions not just on issues, but on specific legislation. Furthermore, the group is openly defending law breaking not just in terms of immigration, but in terms of disrupting elected officials who have opinions they don’t agree with. In essence, LUL is saying that all members of a specific ethnic group have to share the same position on legislation or be condemned as a traitor. Not only is that political, it’s a more militant stance than any other overt political organization on a college campus.

Thorne: If so, do you think colleges and universities should de-fund LUL?

Morrett: LUL should be treated as a political organization rather than a cultural group because that is what it has become.  

Thorne: Isn’t it appropriate for student organizations to take political positions – what about the College Republicans/Democrats? Why might it be inappropriate then for LUL to take an official political position?

Morrett: The College Republicans/Democrats are political organizations in nature. Cultural Greek organizations such as LUL are not. In fact, almost all cultural Greek organizations claim to be non-partisan and welcoming to people of all backgrounds and beliefs. Organizations like LUL pride themselves on promoting diversity and tolerance; one would assume that means diversity of thought too. Unfortunately, that is not always true as can be seen in this case.

Latinos are not monolithic in thought – not every member of LUL supports the DREAM Act, wants to boycott Arizona, and condemns Governor Daniels while supporting illegal immigrants resisting arrest. For LUL to take a stance and promote it to not only their members, but to the community, is not only detrimental to the unity of their brotherhood, but to all Latinos.

Thorne: Is there a more constructive way to promote community among Latino/a students on campuses? What unique needs do Latino/a students experience?

Morrett: Cultural organizations can be great – and they have a place on campus. It is detrimental to the Latino community when organizations designed to provide an outlet for cultural understanding instead become political activists for divisive issues. Not only is this contrary to the goals of the organization, but it also creates a rift within the Latino community and creates a negative perception among the society at large. Latino students do have unique needs as a large portion are first generation Americans, most are the first in their families to go to college, and some grew up speaking a different language at home. Organizations like LUL cater to those needs. Unfortunately, they also impose a radically liberal political agenda on impressionable students who are merely looking for support from their peers who may understand their situation more personally. 

Thorne: Why have college campuses become safe havens for anti-Americanism?

Morrett: Youth constantly have warped notions of tolerance and diversity shoved down their throats by the media, professors, and groups like LUL. In groups like LUL it is “cool” to be anti-American. If you are patriotic, let alone conservative, you don’t fit in. I know dozens of American-born citizens of Hispanic descent who refuse to call themselves American. When you ask why, they can’t really give you an answer. Usually the response is some regurgitated rhetoric about imperialism that they heard in class or from peers who idealize the countries their families fled.

 Thorne: NAS’s new study, The Vanishing West, documents the decline of courses on the history of Western civilization and American history. Taking higher priority are courses that focus on other parts of the world, often through the lens of race, class, and gender. Do you think “racial separatism” has resulted from colleges’ failure to educate students in Western and American history? If colleges were to revitalize their Western and American history programs, would that make a difference?

Morrett: Yes and yes! Through these courses, often called “ethnic studies,” students learn about other cultures. The fact that courses on Western history, culture, and literature are missing gives the impression that people of European descent do not have a culture – which is a commonly held belief among minority communities. They never learn about Western cultural traditions and therefore, assume they don’t exist or don’t think twice about them.

I think it also plays a factor as to why students from Western civilization often don’t take pride in their own background or culture.

Thorne: You write that according to an unspoken rule, you are able to criticize racially divisive movements because you are half-Hispanic. But you have also been called a “race traitor” – and worse – for making such criticisms. Do you think your arguments are better or worse received because you are half Hispanic?

Morrett: A completely white person unaffiliated with a Latino organization would have been called a racist for writing that article. Due to my background, more people listened to what I had to say. I believe it was received better in the Latino community, or least more widely read, than it would have been from someone else of a different background.

Did I receive negative responses? Yes, quite a few. One member of LUL said on Twitter that I was an “embarrassment to the Latino Greek Community” and that “Every chapter & org has a black sheep, some are just whiter than the others.” I found that statement ironic considering my article accuses his organization of being ethnocentric. Others were sexually inappropriate and another one simply said, “Hang her.”

That being said, I also received messages from Latinos in various cultural Greek organizations saying that they agreed with my article and thanking me for standing up and doing something about it.

Thorne: You mention that you were the chapter president of a sorority “just like” LUL at George Washington University. Can you tell a little more about that sorority? Why did you choose to get involved in it and its leadership? Did it take positions on illegal immigration? How did it differ in tone from LUL?

Morrett: I was the chapter president of a similar organization and am still a proud member. The sorority offered me a chance to explore my background and meet other young women, which is the actual goal of Greek cultural organizations. I admire what my organization promotes - being a strong, independent woman who stands up for her beliefs. I took on a leadership role because I saw the benefits to being a member and wanted to help more. My organization did issue a statement of opposition to SB 1070, but has not issued any other statements on political issues. I personally do not support its statement against SB 1070.

Thorne: In your ideal world, how would universities promote racial and national unity?

Morrett: I don’t think they should force diversity or unity. The imposition of diversity only causes division. There is a push to accept and promote any culture so long as it is not Western. If cultural endeavors are going to be supported, then where are the groups promoting Western culture? We need to get past this stigma that only white people are racist and that white people can’t celebrate their heritage. It’s time that we examine what “equal” means – if we want everyone to be treated equal, then that means the same and not special. Therefore why are certain cultural or ethnic groups getting special graduation ceremonies, special scholarships, and admission preferences? How is that unifying?

Brittney Morrett is a graduate of George Washington University and Communications Director at CampusReform.org. The opinions expressed here are her own.

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