Archive for February 28th, 2007

A Media-created crisis? The Delta Zeta Sorority Problem

February 28, 2007

A crisisblogger commenter requested my take on the Delta Zeta sorority crisis, and as I have had my head down in two solid days of meetings, I have to admit to only hearing a passing reference to some sorority problem in conversation. And that comment was, interestingly, that they kicked out everyone who wasn’t pretty.

So, I thought I would look at what this is all about. I found the New York Times story which ran on February 25. Then I looked up what Delta Zeta might have to say about this. What I found, from this quick little review, is a crisis vulnerability that faces far more organizations than most realize. At this point, I would put this one in the category of a media-created crisis and not a crisis created by egregious action on the part of the organization.

What the Times said happened: Some psych prof at DePauw did a survey and found the perceptions students had of the Delta Zeta sorority were “socially awkward.” The sorority, concerned about its image, responded by dumping all the less than attractive and popular women, all the overweight girls, and picking particularly on all the members of non-white races and colors.

Wow. Pretty damning. That is one bad bunch of ladies. They could only find a dozen that fit the profile of members they wanted, however half of them were so upset by the profiling and evictions that they quit. The president of DePauw was so upset at them that he wrote a long letter of reprimand. Then the newspaper story goes on to list the long history of other racial offenses this DePauw university chapter has had over the year.

Is this the truth?

Let’s hear what Debbie Raziano, the National President of Delta Zeta has to say:

– because of recruitment problems the organization voted to close the DePauw chapter last year to relieve the few women there from the duty of active recruitment

– The university denied the request saying that if they left now they couldn’t come back. The university asked the chapter to do a “membership review.”

– Based on this request the chapter asked who would be willing to aggressively recruit new members. The women who were “evicted” decided they did not want and therefore were given a certain period of time to leave.

– that was the sole basis for determining who would go or who would stay

If you look closely at the NYT story, you see that explanation barely covered in there. But it is completely lost in the spin of the story. Now, I am going to take what the sorority president says at face value here, partly because it makes sense and partly because the media’s behavior here falls so typically into the way the entertainment-based “news” media operates that this is too good to pass up.

The story the reporter had in mind was clearly made before he did any interviews. He was careful not to let the facts of the story interfere with the story he had already created in mind. Yes, he offered their explanation. But only after he says the officers “declined to be interviewed” but then provides emailed answers to questions (apparently to this reporter, only talking to him on the phone counts as an interview. Warning to communicators–beware the reporter who does not treat your email communication as legitimate response because you have a high degree of likelihood that they do not want a written record of what you provided. Gives you basis for complaint about being misquoted.)

In short, this looks to me to be an all too typical hack job. From the NYT no less–but after watching the three part series “News War” on PBS, my trust suspicions and mistrust about the news media has been amplified.

If what Delta Zeta says is right, there is a real problem with the president of DePauw. He might have had the opportunity as an objective third party to stop this train wreck from happening. If they are right in saying it was his actions that prompted their membership review and he put the pressure on recruitment, then for him to stand on the side and say oh my god look at those bad ladies is political but not honorable. I’d love to see his explanation.
I may not have this right at all. In my take on this, the NYT put the black hat squarely on the sorority and got complicity from the university president. If they are right, they not only don’t deserve this but the black hat should be squarely placed on the NYT. As for their crisis management of this–not good. If my understanding and interpretation is right, a lot stronger sense of righteous indignation against the paper and the university would be necessary for people to understand that this is one more example of name calling in order to grab headllines. What they did right, however, was put their statements–very poorly written and constructed–on their website and made them accessible to people like me sitting on the sidelines and making probably incorrect judgments about it all.