Like many of us who read the Rolling Stone piece, I was sick hearing the victims’ retelling of the sexual violence they went through, the disgusting Rugby Road chants, and the lack of support from friends and administration alike. These women are stronger than I could possibly fathom, and wish them justice and restoration in their lives. As a graduate of UVA, I felt like the hook-up culture was far too sketchy for sexual assault and date rape to be non-existent, and I hope the article galvanized the academic village to come together to protect its vulnerable students. Considering that holiday breaks are coming up, President Sullivan’s suspension of all fraternal activities until January 9th is not much of a punishment. But one thing that also concerns me is many of my Wahoo peers are passing around of an article on Bustle entitled “Why The University of Virginia Should Ban Fraternities Permanently”.
“I understand that people are upset about the shutdown. But you know what they should be upset about? Rape and brazen sexual assault.”
When people use the word “Fraternity” at the University of Virginia, Rugby Road is the only thing that comes to mind. It’s a stereotype members of all fraternities are looped into. But for people like myself (a member of Alpha Phi Alpha) or members of Phi Beta Sigma or Omega Psi Phi or Kappa Alpha Psi or religious, merit, multi-cultural, business, medical, and co-ed fraternities, Rugby Road was a minimal part of my undergraduate experience, and is virtually the opposite of my fraternal experience.
Lord’s article doesn’t take into an account that historically, Black fraternities and sororities, and other multi-cultural minority organizations were founded for and function in a drastically different way at the University (at any university) than many organizations in IFC. Their presence is far less social, less in numbers, more selective, more about community building and service, combating isolation amongst minority populations at a majority white institution, promoting diversity, and enriching college experience. Banning of all fraternities would be a huge detriment to the minority community, and would undoubtedly dissuade students of color from attending or transferring into the University. Their existence creates a space very much outside of the conventional college experience.
The above quote is a logical fallacy people lean on all the time. The “What you should be worried about is…..” shaming to derail conversations about relating, yet distinct issues is used way too often. It’s quite possible to be upset about two things at the same time, and in order to find a solution, we have to frame the problem correctly. As a member of a Black fraternity, caring about its presence of grounds does not at all diminish my anger and call to end to the sexual violence against women at UVA and everywhere else in this nation.
“Every fraternity at the school has been tainted by these allegations of assault”
Ok, so what, the NPHC and MGC is different. Aren’t they still apart of the problem?
It’s important to note that the physical Frat house itself is a key facilitator for individual and gang rape (a place where alcohol and drugs can be stored and distributed, the high amount of potential victims coming to the party, and the secrecy and sentineled access that upstairs provides predators). One big thing precluding minority and multi-cultural fraternities from this is that almost none of them have a frat house at UVA, and for the most part, they never have and never will. These organization spend the majority of their energy and resources towards community service, and only throw two to three parties during the entire school year. That doesn’t mean members of NPHC and MGC have never or will never commit sexually violent crimes. The silencing of victims occurs across all cultures and communities. But expelling them from grounds is a punishment for a level of sexual violence they simply do not facilitate.
A universal ban is counterintuitively still the bureaucratic route. Instead of directing the investigation and sanctions to the deserving parties, it’s easier to cast a wide net on all fraternities. Though it would be the most fair course of action, punishing certain frats while excluding others would be extremely hard to do (the legacy, prestige, money, and racial implications involved). It also allows administration to be seen as problem solvers, when historically, prestigious schools like UVA have less than transparent about fraternal rape allegations for decades.
O.K. So what should we do then?
Force all fraternities (IFC, NPHC, MGC, or otherwise) that operate in a strictly social function to put community service first. Raise the level of community service required for fraternities to stay on campus. Mandate that individuals pursuing any fraternity must have a minimal amount of community service on their applications and must undergo additional sexual consent training. Mandate that fraternities have to do a certain amount of community service in order to throw parties. Preclude all administrators who are members of fraternities in question from being involved in any part of the investigation. Make stricter rules on alcohol consumption in frat houses. Do random sweeps of parties on Rugby Road. Facilitate events that make sexual consent, health, diversity and cross-cultural exchange real, not just a requirement they check off their list. And students need to take a fuller Grounds-level responsibility as well. If your peer is a victim of sexualy assault, don’t persuade her to not tell in order to preserve her social status. Console and assist her in reporting the crime if she is ready to. Stop joining or supporting fraternities that are repeatedly accused of raping your female peers. Don’t go to their parties until that organization has insured you that it’s house is a safe space. Or just don’t go to their parties or support their events ever again.
But if you want to use a simple, slippery slope way of handling a systemic issue with interconnected variables (alcohol, sexism, sexual violence, masculinity, bureaucracy, peer pressure, social drinking culture), you will ultimately spark a host of problems in communities that don’t contribute to the problem to the same degree as others. If we want to break it down to generalization (and not making distinctions such as social versus service fraternities) then the most practical solution is to ban all men from UVA. That would solve the problem immediately.
I pray that the victims receive justice. But I respectfully, but strongly disagree that all organizations should cease to exist when the majority of Wahoos don’t know why certain ones are there in the first place, and quite possibly didn’t know they existed until they read this article.