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Ole Miss shows how Republicans want to pull white fraternities into the campus culture wars

Republicans are using largely white fraternities to fight right-wing culture wars on college campuses, as shown by their response to an incident at the University of Mississippi.


Phi Delta Theta, a largely white fraternity, says one member of its University of Mississippi chapter has been “removed from membership” after his involvement in a racist incident last week. 

A viral video showed the unnamed frat member appearing to make monkey noises and gestures while a mob largely consisting of white men shouted down a Black woman during a pro-Palestinian protest. The video was shared gleefully by conservatives across social media, with Georgia Rep. Mike Collins captioning it "Ole Miss taking care of business." 

Collins later released a statement after he faced justifiable backlash, saying he did not believe the mocking to be the "focal point of the video" but recognized that it was "potentially inappropriate."

And after widespread backlash, Phi Delta Theta announced the member had been removed Monday. 

“The racist actions in the video were those of an individual and are antithetical to the values of Phi Delta Theta and the Mississippi Alpha chapter," the fraternity said in a statement.

In recent years, conservatives have desperately tried to harness young white, male rage — or sometimes even just general rambunctiousness — for personal gain, and this story seems to fit that trend. In particular, some Republicans see ripe opportunity in white fraternity members to serve as foot soldiers in their crusade against campus diversity and liberal activism. Just days before the Phi Delta Theta incident, conservatives rallied around Pi Kappa Phi, another mostly-white fraternity, at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill after members mocked and counter-demonstrated against pro-Palestinian activists. Conservatives crowdfunded hundreds of thousands of dollars to sponsor a "rager" for the fraternity members, who were portrayed by right-wing media and lawmakers — such as the aforementioned Collins — as valorous heroes for the harrowing act of … not letting an American flag touch the ground. 

I watched both events — particularly the outpouring of support for the racist incident at the University of Mississippi — informed by past experience. Back in 2014, I had a fairly public dispute with a fraternity at Arizona State University, after several of the organization's members hosted a racist party pegged to Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I wrote a letter, and was met with a rush of right-wing deflection and dismissiveness that flooded my inbox. People claiming my largely-Black organization didn’t deserve to exist in the first place, or that these young white men shouldn’t have their lives ruined over “one incident.” 

All that educated me about what purpose these white frats can serve in the eyes of some conservatives. Many of these frats were founded as segregationist institutions and often remain so, de facto, today. And in that sense, they can be seen as symbols of white elitism and exclusion. So we shouldn’t be surprised that Republicans apparently see them as bulwarks meant to keep campus liberalism — and the diversity it breeds — at bay.