At Harvard, it was the massive cheating epidemic on take-home exams. At Duke, it was the group of lacrosse players who allegedly raped two exotic dancers. At Penn State, it was Sandusky and his pedophilia. And here at good ole Rocky Top, it is the now infamous "butt-chugging" incident.
Scandals have captivated the attention and imagination of people for as long as humans have had the ability to communicate. King Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn, and later her notorious trial and execution, was widely discussed throughout Tudor England. President Andrew Jackson's wife, Rachel, was married to another man when she began her relationship with Jackson, an issue that became a focal point for Jackson's opposition in his campaign for president in 1828. And who could forget Bill Clinton and the infamous blue dress?
The public is undoubtedly fascinated with stories of misconduct, inappropriate behavior and indecency. And as much as we may claim to be humiliated or embarrassed by UT's recent national attention over the occurrence at the Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) house, the fact of the matter is that we are still talking about it. Scandals feed off of constant attention, regardless of whether that attention is positive or negative. In today's world of mass media and instant propagation of information, any news is good news. Continue to provide news, and the story will go on indefinitely. That is exactly what UT is doing with the PIKE house incident.
Some are saying that the widely circulated story is true; others (including the victim) are denying the validity of the story. Still others are suggesting that what happened that night was something else altogether. The victim's name has been irreparably damaged; the PIKE house has been expelled from campus until at least 2015. And Greek life, and UT in general, have been repeatedly mocked on national television. We claim we are horrified that Anderson Cooper ridiculed our school. We are scandalized over the various ways that fraternities supposedly imbibe massive amounts of alcohol. We thought it was funny at first, but now we wish the whole thing would just blow over. And yet we ourselves cannot stop talking about it.
It should go without saying that a student being rushed to the hospital with a possibly fatal blood alcohol level is not an unusual occurrence on college campuses everywhere. The reason that this particular incident has exploded is because of rumors that began with UT students and that we continue to circulate with little sense of the ramifications of those rumors. A rumor does not have to be false to be a rumor—it simply has to be an unverified account of something that happened. So why do we continue to circulate these rumors? Why do we feed this media scandal? Perhaps we are intrigued by the salacious details. Perhaps we find it easy to laugh at a group of people to whom most of us don't belong. Perhaps we are even relieved that we were not the ones who were caught. Regardless, it is important to realize that the events we consider scandalous only become scandals when we talk about them constantly. The details are only salacious if we decide that they are. Otherwise, it would be just another tragic incident of a near-death at a fraternity house because of alcohol. If we want to restore the name of our school and of Greek life, we should not be feeding the fire of the rumored scandal by either asserting or denying the validity of the story. We should let it blow over by, ultimately, not talking about it.
— Sarah Russell is a senior in history. She can be reached at email@example.com.