By Austin A. Deray
As someone who works on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives professionally every day, I have been asked more than I ever thought I would about my opinions and thoughts on the recent election and how it relates to the racial and gender issues facing the United States. For those who know me well, they would say, “Great, Deray loves to share his opinion.” In this particular case, I have a lot to say, not just because of what I do professionally, but because of who I am. I’m a Middle-Eastern/North African descent American, born of an immigrant and a Daughter of the American Revolution; I was raised in a household where Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions were practiced, expressed, and welcomed; I am a southerner, brought up in the low country of Georgia. All those identities makeup who I am and offer personal insight into many of the diverging viewpoints of today.
I also find myself, probably for the first time in my life, remembering the words of George Washington. Again, to those who know me, that is an oddity; for when it comes to history, I am a proud medievalist and tend to flee from topics that occurred after the fourteenth century. However, I now realize we are at a moment in US history where Washington’s farewell words should be brought back to the collective mind:
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.” (Washington, Farewell Address, 1796)
Washington spoke then of the dangers of a two-party system, and I fear we did not heed his warning. We are now at a moment where it seems that US citizens are quick to draw their lines. While I stand for knowing, speaking, and fighting for what you believe and being as politically and socially active as any person wants, needs, or is called to be, I am still first and foremost a proponent of educated and informed actions.
As you may know, Phi Delta Theta is founded on three Cardinal Principles—Friendship, Sound Learning, and Rectitude—and I have come to realize for many sound learning has become a simple statement of academic pursuit for collegiate males, in favor of privileging friendship and rectitude. I think it is time we return to sound learning. For through sound learning we make our truest of friendships and amalgamate reason and empathy within our integrity, our rectitude.
There are many issues facing the US at this moment, beyond the fractured nature of our society due to this two-party system. Even more than healthcare or the environment, it seems that conversations around immigration, racism, criminal justice, and LGBTQ+ issues are the more impassioned conversations in the circles I traverse. What I wish for most is that people would educate themselves on these issues, beyond relying on party politics or the dominant media coverage/cycles. Really study an issue, listen to the people that live or experience the issue, and then have a conversation—really have a conversation—where both sides ponder together not to win an argument or dominate another’s thoughts or opinions, but have a real dialogue. A conversation where both parties/positions not only speak but really listen to the other.
Let us not fall into the factional society Washington warned against. Let us continue to be able to have conversations together. It is every person’s job to educate themselves on the facts and listen to those who have experiential/lived knowledge to help inform your opinion or stance on a particular issue.
I know these conversations and topics can be and often are uncomfortable; however, that’s a good thing. Welcome the uncomfortable; we often grow and learn more about ourselves when we grow from a place of discomfort. When you are uncomfortable, the person(s) you are in a conversation with are probably uncomfortable too. Because you both experience discomfort together and you already have something in common. By working/speaking through the uncomfortable, hopefully you will be able to come to a deeper understanding. Though it might not change either side’s opinions, you can walk away knowing that you educated yourself on a topic, took the time to listen to someone else’s point of view, and talked through both your thoughts and feelings. Whether you agree or disagree, you have respected and honored each other, and you can end the conversation in a good place.
I truly believe if we as a brotherhood return to sound learning by educating ourselves, really listening, and at times live uncomfortably, we will not only see that we can transcend party lines and politics, but that we can have real dialogue and conversations as brothers. Let’s not fall into the trap Washington warned us about, let’s embrace and exemplify the second cardinal principle of sound learning as envisioned by the Immortal Six. So that we can continue to grow together and push each other to the greatest versions of ourselves.
Austin A. Deray currently serves the Fraternity as the Diversity and Inclusion Commissioner and the Delta North Province President. He is a PhD candidate in cultural studies at George Mason University, currently working on his dissertation research on the lived experience of students of racial and ethnic identities within historically white fraternities. He received his MA in European history, with a concentration in medieval history, and an MA in gender studies, his thesis entitled: “The Old Boy Mentalities: A Look into Southern Fraternities,” at Armstrong State University, where he was a lecturer in the Gender Studies department from 2014–2018.
Brother Deray currently works in the Office of Graduate Student Life at Mason, working on leadership and advising initiatives for his unit. He is the adviser to the Graduate and Professional Student Association, the student government for graduate students, and his portfolio includes the diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives within his office. Deray is a frequent facilitator for not only Mason, but also other DMV universities around diversity, equity, and inclusion topics: anti-Blackness, colorism, discussions of race/ethnicity and gender/sexuality within fraternity and sorority communities, policing, Safe Zone, Title IX, and xenophobia.