He pushes his way through the crowd, brushing sweat-coated arms with everyone he passes and dodging drinks as they spill out of the red cups that seem to have overtaken the dim-lit 10×10 room. The stickiness of the floor pulls at his shoes with every step, making the trek to the other side of that humid, overcrowded room even more irritating.
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Halfway there – and tired of battling elbows and people who think jumping around like a mad man is equivalent to dancing – he stops and looks around. Five feet to his left, a guy is talking to a girl. She looks shy and nervous; her eyes dart around the room every five seconds, her arms are folded, only moving to push a stubborn piece of hair out of her face. The guy puts his mouth to her ear to talk, screaming over the DJ, his hands tugging at her waist. Slowly, the girl starts to warm up to him, smiling and even granting him a laugh here and there.
Snapping back into his surroundings, he looks away, homing in on his earlier mission. But still, there really is no clear path to the other side of the room – the side with the couches. Accepting defeat, he turns back around. He looks at the girl close by. In the 30 short seconds that he had turned around and analyzed the room something had changed. She wasn’t smiling or laughing. She wasn’t happy to be with him. She wasn’t okay. The two locked eyes, and he saw that hers were welling with tears. His pupils refocused as he looked closer and saw the reason for her despair. The guy she had been laughing with just 30 seconds prior now had one hand up her skirt and the other firmly grasping her wrist.
His mind is racing, but, somehow, his feet have turned to stone, making the five-foot distance between himself and the girl feel as if it were a mile.
The girl – she is one in four. One out of the 25 percent of undergraduate women who will be sexually assaulted while in college. The same 2016 study, conducted by the National Institute of Justice, suggests that of these sexual assaults, 4 percent of those reported in a single academic year are for rape and attempted rape. The Association of American Universities reported similar findings in 2015.
In the 2016 Campus Climate Survey, administered by the University of Miami’s President’s Coalition on Sexual Violence, Prevention and Education, 28.1 percent of respondents reported experience of one or more instances of sexual violence. 93.6 percent of the alleged perpetrators were male.
Resources at UM
Sexual assault survivors will not find that there is a lack of resources at UM. At the start of 2017, UM named its new Title IX coordinator, Bonnie Muschett. As Title IX coordinator, Muschett serves as the university’s central resource on all issues related to Title IX compliance. The university’s decision to have a Title IX coordinator sets it apart from other universities that do not have such a position. Her work to coordinate the investigation, response and resolution of sexual misconduct complaints extends to the Sexual Assault Resource Team (SART).
SART allows students to have the ability to speak to a trained volunteer around the clock. The volunteer team of university faculty, staff and graduate students is trained by Dr. Audrey Cleary, Counseling Center Psychologist and SART’s coordinator.
Students who call the 24/7 hotline will be told their options, including going to the Jackson Memorial Hospital Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center, reporting to police, speaking with the dean of students or going to the student health center or counseling center on campus. “Many students choose to go to the counseling center for therapy because this allows them to talk about something that happened recently or a long time ago,” Cleary said. Each of the resources that SART directs students to offer completely free services.
Though Cleary believes that not enough students utilize SART, she has noticed one positive trend in the phone calls they receive – more and more calls are coming from friends. This indicates two things: that victims of sexual assault are more frequently opening up to friends and that there is a more prominent sense of obligation and concern among students.
Cleary suspects that many survivors hesitate to speak out because they fear they will not be believed. Victims come to believe this because of the toxic rape culture that exists presently. “Unfortunately, there’s a myth that there’s a lot of false reporting of sexual assault so people think – and oftentimes, sadly, they’re correct – that if they share what happened to them, they won’t be believed,” Cleary said.
This ‘questioning the victim’ trend must stop, because in actuality, “only 2 to 10 percent of rapes are false reports, a rate that does not exceed the false reporting rates of other crimes,” according to a research study by three Northeastern University professors.
Chris Daniels, the Greek representative on the President’s Coalition, said that it is important, now more than ever, to stand up as a man and honor the women who speak out.
“Men absolutely need to be more vocal and actually say ‘I recognize what you’re going through and I accept that. I believe you,’” Daniels said.
Ensuring that women feel comfortable and safe enough to report their abuse is not only important, but necessary, in order to treat survivors. This is something that SART strives to raise awareness of through their educational workshops, which any student organization can request.
At the Root of the Problem
Better than after-the-fact procedures, however, is preventative programming, so that individuals will not find themselves sitting in a Title IX office or speaking with a SART volunteer in the first place. This is where universities across the country, UM included, fail their students – the women, who are most often victims of sexual assault, and the men, who have the ability to stop its proliferation. Even where preventative education is provided – mainly through raising awareness – it is not effective.
Dr. Claire Oueslati-Porter, who teaches the introduction to women’s and gender studies course, believes all students, not just women, would benefit from this course. Students are educated about the modern patriarchy and how it still influences many facets of life.
Porter feels that the first step in lessening instances of sexual assault is to acknowledge that there is a problem. The next step from Porter would be to “have the conversation.” Specifically, how normalized the aspects of sexual misbehavior have become. To better facilitate this conversation, it is important to understand the dynamic behind this ongoing misbehavior among men.
According to Dr. Michael Kimmel, a professor at Stonybrook University and bestselling author with his extensive research on masculinity and the male psychology, we must move from “whether or not this is happening” to “what are we going to do about this?”
Kimmel suggests that the problem stems from “the battle of the sexes” and the need for men to prove their masculinity. This need leads to this sense of entitlement in which a woman has to give up what the man needs.
“The relationship between women and men is adversarial,” Kimmel said. “Women have what we want. We have to figure out a way to get it. She has to decide if she wants to give it up. In sexual conquest, we win and she loses,” he said in a phone interview.
He adds that growing up with this idea has created a culture that completely denies women a sexual voice. Because they are too busy saying no, or deciding if they want to say no, women never get to decide what they want.
The responsibility of men to do their part in this movement lies in their power to change the current climate. On a college campus, this places much of the responsibility on the groups that are prominent in the social scene.
“It’s a problem in the broader society, too,” said Merike Blofield, UM’s director of the women’s and gender studies department. “It’s not really fair to say that it’s just fraternities. It’s that fraternities are like these agglomerations of power on campus.”
It’s not so much that the issue lies within Greek life, but that the issue is relevant to the groups who control the parties in college. No matter the group involved, sexual assault stems from the men in control.
“Sexual assault is going to happen, unfortunately, whether it’s Greek life or at a club sport party,” said Craig Lapham, president of Pi Kappa Phi. “It happens here because Greek life controls the social scene, so that’s why it’s more of a relevant issue in Greek life.”
The solution, however, does not lie in the simple disbandment of fraternities. “I don’t really agree with the idea that we have to kick the fraternities off campus, or that we can’t have them anymore, because that won’t solve the problem hegemonic masculinity,” Blofield said.
It is on these men to begin the process of changing these rigid gender stereotypes through conversation, not just from the university, but among peers. Part of this mission lies in fraternities’ willingness to uphold the values laid out in their own charters. As Kimmel points out, these charters clearly state that the fraternity brothers are to set the example of true gentlemanliness. For example, the Mission of Sigma Alpha Epsilon states:
“The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies…”
To Kimmel, it’s clear: “Real men don’t rape women.”
Kimmel proposes that if the men of the fraternity reinforce the idea of living up to their chapter’s values rather than having the values of others imposed upon them, the conversation of sexual assault would not be as accusatory as many currently perceive it to be.
Upholding those values, of course, means a change in behavior. The partying culture that our generation boasts all too proudly is supporting an environment that allows sexual assault to occur. In a sense, the college party culture revolves around numbers – and those numbers define masculinity. The number of beers you shot-gunned. The time of day you started drinking. How long it took you to get blackout drunk. The number of girls you have slept with. It’s all a competition, spoken or not.
“You know it sucks, because obviously you give off this sort of manly perspective that you need to get with a lot of girls and that it’s cool if you do,” said Lapham. “But sometimes that leads the person to get into sticky situations.”
The competitiveness over masculinity within fraternities is amplified by companies like I’m Shmacked, Barstool Sports and Total Frat Move. The content shared on these accounts showcase and celebrate the extreme misbehavior of fraternity brothers, from drunken recklessness to the objectification of women. The behavior is “unbecoming of a gentleman,” as Brad Sheehan, president of Kappa Sigma, put it. Our generation’s obsession with such companies tarnishes the image of fraternities and instills a false conception of ‘frat life’ for incoming members.
“Because people are watching all those I’m Shmacked-type videos, we often find that when we get new members, they don’t really know the idea of drinking in moderation,” said Chris Wright, president of Sigma Phi Epsilon. “We definitely do have to push and show kids that you can still have a good time without ending up on my front lawn.”
Quinn Brashares, Sig Ep’s risk manager, added that, in his experience, as college kids become more experienced with alcohol, they learn their limits and realize that the times they have the most fun are not when they get blackout drunk.
Fraternity parties, as they are now, are a breeding ground for unwelcomed situations. The size of the parties alone presents a problem for fraternities wishing to get a handle on the antics. Though all fraternities have the equivalent of a ‘risk manager’ or ‘sober monitor,’ – whose role is to keep an eye out for everyone’s safety – the amount of people in attendance makes this a near impossible task.
In an effort to better control parties, Beta Theta Pi has taken it upon themselves to alter the parties logistically. “We are trying to have less people at events overall,” said Matthew Wilson, Beta Theta Pi president. “We have cut back on the amount of money we spend on alcohol for parties and brothers stick to mainly drinking beer because they get less drunk.” Presently, the fraternity is spending about $100 less on alcohol per party.
Beta is a step ahead of their fellow IFC fraternities in this respect. Besides Beta, the query of party logistics and facilitation was met with pursed lips, furrowed eyebrows and a 10 to 15 second pause of consideration, until finally, an uncertain response was choked out. A climate of trust and respect will not simply emerge in the party environment present today. Before this can happen, fraternity leaders must consider ways to reshape their parties as a whole.
“The consumption of alcohol is alarming,” said Steven Priepke, senior associate dean of students and deputy Title IX coordinator. “Not even specific to fraternities, though I know it’s amplified there, the culture of pre-partying the pre-party did not exist when I was in college.”
Beyond drinking, Priepke admitted that he had to learn what the term ‘hook up culture’ meant when he began working at UM. Going through college, he remembers more of a concern over “whatever the STD of the day was,” hence, fewer casual sexual encounters. Priepke also admits that he does not know how to reverse the hyper-sexual culture of today’s college students, though he does know this: “People as objects must stop. We have to make people more human in every setting.”
Making people “more human” can mean many things. But in its most archaic sense, it means generating understanding, generating compassion, generating sympathy. The ability to sympathize is what separates humans from other forms of life.
Why then, does the very organization that values loyalty, companionship and togetherness often shun those survivors who choose to speak up about their experience with sexual assault? There is a stigma that within the Greek community, the survivor will be ostracized – by both fraternity men and sorority women – if she comes forward. Lapham made known that this absolutely happens.
The “tightness” of the Greek community discourages women from reporting their abuse, for fear that they will no longer be accepted. “That’s a tough situation because obviously internally, [the victim] wants to do something, but externally, she knows that there are a lot of people in fraternities and sororities who are going to look at her differently because of what she may or may not say,” Lapham said.
Outsiders also often consider a correlation between the strong sense of loyalty amongst fraternity brothers and the blatant disregard of sexual misconduct. Despite this belief, the participating UM fraternities were all in agreement that by playing bystander as another brother commits sexual assault, you are actually being disloyal. Not to mention the huge act of disloyalty that the perpetrating brother is transgressing upon his fraternity and brothers by committing such an act.
Sexual assault comes in as many forms as there are people on this earth, but one distinction rings consistent across college campuses – malicious and violent assault versus that which stems from a general lack of clarity. Instances that fall into the latter category are largely owed to the ambiguity of consent among men.
At its core, consent is simple affirmation of whatever comes next. “If it’s not clear cut, it’s not consent,” said Charles Dieckhaus, president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. While this situation is certainly ideal, he and Wright acknowledged that most instances of sexual assault on college campuses occur under less explicit circumstances.
The influence of alcohol, drugs and peer pressure cloud the simplicity of verbal, direct consent. This was made clear by every interviewed fraternity’s difficulty with defining the word under more precarious situations. Wright said that once someone reaches a “certain level of drunkenness,” there cannot be consent by either the man or the woman.
“The line lies in the question of whether you can make a conscious decision or not,” said Jarred Dahlerbruch, Alpha Sigma Phi’s standards chair. “Pair that with the blackout culture and consent is out the question.”
Despite this acknowledgement, there was a troubling consistency across the fraternity men’s discussion on consent. There was no mention of nonverbal cues, except that one of the parties might look “a bit too messed up.” Being able to recognize even subtle nonverbal cues is of vital importance if consent is to be achieved. The first step in dispelling any confusion over consent is simple – talk about it.
“If I’m being honest, I might have to say that no, we don’t specifically address consent formally within our fraternity,” said Lapham. There is, Lapham ensured, a definite understanding that sexual assault or inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated. “When we see something that could be seen as too aggressive, or anything that could possibly imply sexual assault, I’m straight up with them, like ‘I’m gonna kick the shit out of you,’” Lapham said. “We’re not actually gonna kick the shit out of them, but you know…”
Using fear to prevent sexual assault may work at times, but not in all cases, particularly those in which men are simply unsure of what is or isn’t wanted. A larger discussion must be had about being cognizant of nonverbal cues when there are other influencers involved.
Flaws in the System
Considering the uncertainty around consent, alongside the flagrant party scene at UM, it is shocking that the university would turn such a blind eye to the environments that support sexual assault. Only parties that are registered with the school are required to abide by specific rules, such as the presence of six sober monitors, a maximum length of four hours and the prohibition of hard liquor. Among the 12 fraternities present at UM, only 10-12 parties are registered per semester, according to Christina Luna, assistant dean of students and director of Greek life.
This means that most every party thrown by the 12 fraternities has no university-given rules. Many fraternities take it upon themselves to implement rules similar to those at registered parties. However, should they choose not to do this – or do an inadequate job of it – there is no one to hold them accountable should an incident of sexual assault occur.
This apathy is even more shameful considering the monitoring of registered parties only applies to fraternities. Any non-Greek affiliated party has absolutely no liability with the school. This includes parties thrown by club sports, division one sports and student organizations, such as the Association of Commuter Students (ACS) and Student Government.
These organizations also throw large parties that have no oversight from the university. President of ACS, John Becerril, confirmed that the group receives no instruction from the university regarding their parties. Without the university holding these organizations accountable, students are given free reign. There is no guarantee of sober monitors, limited alcohol consumption or other basic practices in maintaining a safe party environment.
According to TJ Callan, a former ‘Canes football player, even coaches do not have specific guidelines for players throwing parties. “They didn’t really talk to us about any rules per say, just not to let anything out on social media and to make sure we’re doing the right thing.,” Callan said.
By letting massive parties go completely unchecked, UM is allowing an environment that is conducive to sexual assault to flourish. There needs to be an increase in involvement on the administration’s part.
Even the programming that the university does administer – and only to fraternities, unless otherwise requested – is not effective. The programming mainly consists of a speaker giving a presentation. This age-old technique looks and sounds good on its surface, until you dive deeper and realize that the method is all but ineffective. Why? Students do not connect with its delivery, specifically the speaker, who is typically at least 20 years their senior.
More often than not, going to a seminar and listening to a speaker – typically as a requirement set forth by the school – leaves fraternity members feeling as if they are being spoken down to or lectured. Because fraternity members feel they are being accused, an attitude of defensiveness pollutes what should be a positive environment. The intention, of course, is not to point fingers or cast judgement, but to start a conversation and educate fraternity men. Regardless, the disconnect between speaker and audience is too significant to accomplish that intent.
Therefore, the ultimate responsibility of stirring a dialogue must fall on the students themselves. University administration understands there needs to be a reorganization of programming if they want to achieve the goal of preventing sexual assault. “We are not in a position to make change at your level; only you can do that,” Priepke said.
Administration and fraternities are in consensus over the necessity of program restructuring, a positive sign for the fight against sexual assault. “I think men are generally going to feel a lot more comfortable talking about sexual assault when the conversation is coming directly from their peers,” Wilson said.
Clearly, peer to peer, discussion-based programming is a more effective way of making men recognize the importance and prevalence of the problem. Seeing their peers be passionate about the issue of sexual assault encourages men to speak more freely on the topic and actively participate in, rather than tolerate, the conversation.
Sig Ep has already begun discussing the issue in chapter meetings, where the direction of the conversation is steered by one another, rather than an older speaker who is distant from their day to day lives.
“It really is a top-down cultural thing,” Wright said. “When the models and leaders in the fraternity just do not condone something like that at all, it really does reverberate.”
Wright’s fraternity brother Brashares has found that by telling his peers about his personal encounters with sexual assault, the discussion has become more fueled by passion over dreaded necessity.
“I’ve had loved ones experience sexual assault and it’s been awful and painful for me to deal with that,” Brashares said. “When I talk to the new members, I tell them that and I tell them that if they were to ever do anything like this, they’re not going to be a member here.”
To ensure that fraternity men are getting the most out of the programming provided by UM, the President’s Coalition – which Priepke described as one big “think-tank” against sexual assault – is planning to have future presentations led by Greek life leaders, rather than older speakers. In addition to presentations, the coalition hopes to create workshops that will emphasize interactive problem-solving based on scenarios typical of “frat life.”
By working together to generate understanding and instill a sense of obligation, Blofield hopes that men will realize that “no one is attacking them personally” and that the workshops are “not meant to hinder their self-esteem in any way.”
Outside of fraternities, the general idea to have men join the conversation in an open environment is one that resident assistant Max Erbe hopes to accomplish as he plans to start a club with this as its primary focus.
“The problem is ‘Are men listening? Do they really think this is a problem?’,” Erbe said. “We need to realize that, as men, sometimes we make women uncomfortable.”
Erbe’s goal for this club is to make men realize the power they have to change the culture. Since it’s the actions of men that led to this movement, it is up to them to realize that, acknowledge that and call for an effective change in the way men perceive women.
The ultimate goal of this movement is not to shun men, but to create a more positive environment centered on the focus of gender equality. It’s a win-win situation where all would benefit. “Research has shown time and time again that when women’s status increase in society, men are actually happier too,” Porter said.
It is through the work of the men on campus – not just fraternities – that we can truly begin to see a change. “We know that we cannot fully empower women and girls, unless we engage boys and men,” Kimmel said.
The patriarchy hurts men because it hinders their ability to progress emotionally, so instead they push toward anger, competition and dominance – a poisonous cocktail that has led to the current state of affairs. Gender equality needs work on many fronts, but the most basic, yet unaddressed, is on the front of sexual assault.
“It’s sexy to defend or to help or to support and not take advantage of women,” Priepke said.
Women are speaking out now more than they ever have before. It is time that the men do the same. So, men … Stand up and speak up. And when you do, do it passionately.
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