I don’t go on Facebook much these days, but every so often I pop on to check for one thing or another and happen to see the first few posts on my feed. Right before Thanksgiving, a number of those posts were from current or former UVA students expressing their outrage at the situation described in the recent Rolling Stone article on a rape.
I didn’t end up reading the article, or many other articles spurred on by that account. It’s not that it didn’t affect me or I didn’t think it was important. In many ways, I felt like I already knew what it said, and there really wasn’t much that could be said that would change my opinion on college sex life or fraternities.
I will say up front that I am fairly biased against Greek life in general. So, a really nasty gang rape reportedly occurred at a frat party. It didn’t shock me and frankly, it didn’t even really make me angry. It just added another nail to an already pin-cushioned coffin.
Turns out, of course, that this wasn’t likely the case. While there may have been a sexual assault, or even rape, somehow tied to what was reported, what was reported does not seem to coincide with an awful lot of details from reality, including times, places, the specific fraternity, and even people. And yet my opinion of Greek life, fraternities, and the girls that go to frat parties remains unchanged.
Part of this is due to an article from The Atlantic, which came out in March of 2014. For whatever reason, it didn’t spark the same sort of national outrage that Rolling Stone’s coverage of the UVA situation did. Perhaps that was because it wasn’t focused on just one school and situation; I’m sure there are other factors as well. But in recounting numerous problematic aspects of fraternity life on campuses across the nation, it reported a very similar tale:
A younger student, who claims not to drink and not to hang out with people who drink, went to a frat party on Halloween. A guy began to dance with her, and later he and some friends went upstairs to smoke pot. The girl joined them, although she states she had no intention to smoke, and didn’t partake that night. Eventually, the friends of the guy finished smoking and left the room. The girl attempted to leave as well, was prevented from doing so by the first guy, and was raped.
“Some 10 minutes later, it was over. Jane pulled on her tights and ran downstairs and out of the fraternity house. On the street, hysterical, she ran into a male friend and asked him to walk her back to her dorm. Inside, she found a girlfriend who comforted her, staying nearby while she showered, giving her cookies, reading to her until she fell asleep. Following some spectacular bungling on Wesleyan’s [College] part (for instance, no one was at Health Services to help her, because it was a weekend), Jane went to the health center on Monday, then to two deans and eventually, after her parents and brother strongly encouraged her to do so, to the police.”
Ultimately, a man was charged, convicted, and sentenced for this crime, although it turns out that he was neither a member of the fraternity nor even a student. Yet think about those circumstances: he and his friends were able to party at the residence, engage in illegal drug behavior, and participate in or facilitate a rape in the upstairs of the fraternity house.
There is something very wrong in any social scene where those actions could be perpetrated without the notice, or possibly interest, of anyone in a position to stop them (i.e. any of the residents or guests). There is also something very wrong in a culture where the reaction of friends of the victim is not to call the police or go to an authority immediately, but instead to offer comfort through company and cookies.
One has to wonder, would this be the reaction if the friend was raped on the street, instead of at a frat party? Or is there something intrinsically tainting about having been at a frat party that makes the victim and those around her less likely to treat this horrendous crime seriously?
Which brings us back to UVA, the reactions to these sorts of cases, and how society should (but probably won’t, at least on a large scale) move forward to address them and the attitudes behind them.
The only article I actually read on the case, before the reveal that a large part of it might be untrue, called out the men in fraternities, and on campuses in general, for living in a such a way that the perpetrators of these crimes were not called out until it became public knowledge.
The author expressed outrage that men who engaged in damaging sexual practices, whether from issues of consent or mutual promiscuity, or forcible rape, were able to have normal social lives that never confronted these behaviors. I think he had a point, and he was one of the few with a useful sort of outrage generated from the situation.
Because most of the reaction at UVA was certainly not useful. An article in the Chicago Tribune notes that faculty helped organize a rally entitled “Take Back the Party,” in an effort to make the party scene safe for women and (as one UVA student noted in a comment) take “the party out of the hands of primarily male-mediated events and putting it into the hands of women.”
The student response was even more bizarre. They organized a “Slut Walk” which “is trying to fight against this victim-blaming, slut-shaming culture we have that sexualizes women, yet shames them for being sexual.” This seems a particularly odd response.
How did the connection between the victim and the word “Slut” even come about? Unless going to a frat party automatically qualifies one for that label? And if so, is the solution, given what happens frequently enough at frat parties to be in the news year after year, really to change how we view that word and our perception of the women who attend frat parties?
I had a discussion with a current undergrad girl this past weekend. She’s nice, conservative, doesn’t swear or smoke, and doesn’t drink often. She glibly mentioned at some point that she was going over to one of the campus fraternities for some reason or another.
I must have made a face, because she then said: “All the boys that want to drink will be out drinking! Don’t judge; I can see you judging me!” The last was said in a sort of a humorous, self-mocking way; the way one defends a guilty pleasure that doesn’t really have any defensible merit, like watching True Blood or owning a Nikki Minaj album.
I shrugged my shoulders and told her that I didn’t question her or anything she was going to get up to; I simply lacked respect for fraternities and didn’t trust any involvement with them, no matter how innocent. This, oddly enough, seemed to mollify her. After all, I wasn’t questioning her morality or reputation; just her wisdom.
Because it’s not that I think it’s a distinction between good girls and bad girls, or that good girls don’t go to such parties. Frankly, I think that smart girls, regardless of their morals and intentions, don’t go upstairs with groups of men at fraternity houses; perhaps they don’t go to those houses at all.
I recognize that each fraternity and each chapter is going to be different. That each year, even, is different as the individuals and personalities involved change. I’m not saying that everyone in a fraternity (or Greek life more broadly) is untrustworthy or a bad person.
What I am saying is that fraternity houses, specifically but not limited to the context of parties, are risky places for women. Year after year this continues to be the case.
Which is not to say that the victims of sexual assault in such cases are to blame. The criminal actions of the assailants are purely on the perpetrators’ own heads. But people in general, and women in particular (due primarily to physiological factors), should factor in the risks involved in certain decisions.
Is it just or right that women are assaulted or raped with some frequency at frat parties? Absolutely not. I’m fairly certain that most fraternity members especially wish this were not the case, given the bad press they get. But it is, nevertheless, the case.
This is reality, and it should inform the decisions of women on college campuses, whether they are young freshmen or seniors. They don’t have to show up. They don’t have to give tacit support to the party culture. Because ultimately, that’s what continually showing up at such scenes is.
This reality of risk should also inform the friends and family of college women and girls getting ready to go to college. My father occasionally ribs me about what he sees as my vehement, and maybe a bit overblown, dislike for fraternities.
We were joking about it one time in front of my younger sister, and he warned her: “Be careful, you will be judged if you join a sorority!” I started to wave it off and say, mostly out of politeness than honesty “No, no, I’ll respect your decision….”
But I stopped. Because, no; I wouldn’t. Instead, I looked right at her and told her that I didn’t like Greek life, the sorts of people I saw involved in it, and what the actions of a few said about those people who freely chose to continue to associate with them.
If what I said keeps her out of Greek life and away from frat parties, well, good. If that means she won’t ever be homecoming queen, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Since really, that is what most of the arguments on the table come down to. The apologists for Greek life tend to cite two benefits of involvement: philanthropic ventures (which one can do independently very easily and possibly more effectively) and social connections, whether in terms of friendship while on campus or business connections after graduation.
That is what someone is risking, or choosing: social status (and a ‘good time’) or avoiding situations with a higher probability of rape (or other violence). It should be an easy choice.
If even part of what was reported happened to “Jackie,” it was wrong; she did not choose to have such violence inflicted upon her and could in no way control the actions of anyone who was involved.
But I wish she hadn’t been there at all; I wish she hadn’t chosen to be a part of the frat party scene. I hope fewer people do, in the future.