Intent vs. Impact: Re-thinking Event Themes

Category: Fraternity

Lindsay Sell

Beta Gamma, Colorado State

There appears to be a never-ending string of stories in the media detailing the inappropriate party themes used by fraternities and sororities at campuses across the country. At these parties, members dressed and acted in ways stereotypically connected to particular cultures and posed in offensive pictures that were subsequently shared via social media. In each of these instances, public outrage followed.

The reality is that fraternities and sororities often host themed social events. Themes for these events add a novel element and can be a fun way to connect with one another and our guests. When those themes marginalize entire groups of people, even people whose identities might be represented in the chapter hosting the event, we run afoul of our organizational values and create a negative and unsafe environment for entire groups of people.

The public apologies offered by chapters hosting these inappropriate parties often indicate that the organization’s intention wasn’t to offend, that they were just trying to have fun. These apologies often come after the media has secured photos from these events or seen public invitations via forums like Facebook, leading one to wonder how many events with inappropriate themes are hosted that don’t receive attention and are left unaddressed. The processing of these events presents an opportunity to understand the difference between intent and impact.

The impact of our actions can be and often is very different from our intentions, and both are important to consider in our decision-making. Understanding the impact our behaviors have on others, despite our good intentions, helps us be more empathetic and adjust our behaviors to be more inclusive and thoughtful. When determining a party theme, it might be wise to consider the impact of that theme on members of our organizations, our campus communities, and the larger community we’re all part of, instead of acknowledging only our own good intentions and offering that as rationale to proceed.

As members of Kappa Alpha Theta, we agree to live by a common set of values. Those values call for us to exercise our widest influence for good. When we think about our intentions and our impact, we are better able to understand how our individual and organizational decisions impact others and are then able to ensure those decisions do good and not harm. I hope we can all be thoughtful of this when hosting events and as we hold our peers accountable for their events. I hope our decisions to not host social events with inappropriate themes are motivated by our authentic understanding of the impact of that theme and less by our fear of getting caught. And more than anything, I hope we can ensure all our actions as members of this organization, including those related to our social events, are reflective of our values and commitment to the widest influence for good because they consider both our intentions and our impact.