Recent high-profile tragedies have brought Greek life into the same ignominious limelight the NFL is squirming under now, with enough public outcry from concerned and bereft parents, funders, and community members spurring big changes in how fraternities address safety. The Fraternal Health and Safety Initiative was recently launched as a consortium of eight prestigious national fraternities pledging to come together to change the way greek life contributes to sexual assault, binge drinking, and hazing. Just last week 21 fraternities at the University of Indiana released poignant and encouraging statements against sexual assault, and in just a few days, a fraternity at American University will be making a similar, if not messier, statement about how seriously they take campus sexual assault and the particular importance of their leadership and participation as fraternity members.
We at PARC were pleasantly surprised and thoroughly excited to have American University senior Colin Scott reach out to us on behalf of his chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha, to see if we would be interested in being beneficiary’s of their annual fund raising event. Lambda Chi Alpha is one of the fraternities to have recently joined the Fraternal Health and Safety Initiative, and Colin Scott and his brothers are walking that talk by organizing a fun event this saturday September 27th at American University designed to raise awareness, encourage responsibility and accountability, and support community efforts to fight campus sexual assault. At a time when the vast majority of news coming out of campus sexual assault is rife with victim-blaming, trauma and hate, it is refreshing and critical to hear stories like this of young men on college campuses talking about responsibility and engaging their peers to join them in creating cultures of respect and consent. Read on for an interview with Colin Scott and his brothers talking about why sexual assault is important to them and what they are doing about it.
PARC: Rape and sexual assault have really come to the fore of national public attention in the past few years, with key populations and institutions being revealed as likely spaces of cultures that harbor frighteningly high rates of sexual violence. Being that the ‘campus’ is one of these hot spots for sexual assault, and fraternities and their parties especially implicated, we were both surprised and excited to have you as a representative of your fraternity reach out to us for a fundraising event. Can you tell us how and why you decided to approach us as an organization?
Colin: Fraternities as a whole have carried the reputation of being hotbeds for rape culture for years, and frighteningly, it is not simply a stereotype. On campuses across the country, fraternities share the values of respect, duty and integrity, and if they are true to these values, then fraternity houses should be one of the safest places on campus for a woman to go to – but that is not the case. Instead, fraternity houses are one of the most dangerous places for a woman to go to. This is indicative of a systemic flaw in Greek culture, and it needs to be addressed.
It is not our intention to sit here and condemn other Greek organizations of being part of the problem, because up until now, my own organization was content to sit on the sideline and take the “Well, we’re not like that” approach. I wanted to redirect the focus of our philanthropy toward this cause, but I wanted to find the right organization before really pushing the idea on the rest of the chapter.
I looked through dozens of organizations both on the national and local level, and finally settled on PARC, because I think that it is working to address the root of the problem. There are many other organizations out there that are doing amazing work for survivors of sexual assault, but I was really drawn by the idea of this education program having a ripple effect, and stopping sexual violence before it ever happens. Once I decided on PARC, I introduced it to the chapter and they were fully onboard with it – they are so excited to put on this event and support an organization that is making a positive impact on the world.
PARC: As college students and members of the Greek system, you are perfectly positioned to observe rape culture on campus, and it’s various manifestations. How do you approach this culture and it’s discourses? How does Lambda Chi Alpha discuss and approach sexual assault and rape culture?
Colin: As a group, we take our values and teachings very seriously. Respect is one of our seven core values, and we hold each other accountable. Our teachings are not geared specifically toward fighting rape culture, but when we hold education sessions, that is always a topic that is discussed, especially in regards to respect.
PARC: Some key messages around rape and sexual assault involve things like consent, bystander intervention, victim-blaming, and responsibility. How are these messages filtering down to you and your cohort? That is, what is the general interpretation(s) or response to these messages, and do you see areas for improvement?
Colin: Even before the recent events on our campus last semester, I, and the rest of my brothers, took all of these seriously. Before freshmen are eligible to rush, they are given multiple lectures during orientation about sexual assault prevention. I would never expect to hear about any problems from our members when it comes to consent and victim-blaming. Any kind of incident that might occur where it’s clear that a brother did not listen to these messages would be grounds for an investigation into the matter and formal punishments laid down from the Executive Committee, with immediate dismissal on the table. All of our brothers know that a breach like that would be a metaphorical middle finger to all of the values we stand for, and we would not associate ourselves with that criminal behavior.
Bystander intervention and responsibility are trickier beasts. Our values and expectations are clear when it comes to consent and victim blaming, but these other two subjects are a bit harder to lecture about and discuss in a focused manner. Much of it can be common sense– keeping a watchful eye on your friends and others when you are out, helping out those who may be unable to help themselves, etc. Those are obvious and I can confidently (and proudly) say that all of our members would do the right thing in a situation where it was clear someone intervening could make a difference. However, I also think that we, myself included, need more help. We still have work to do in a number of areas, whether it’s keeping a better lookout, talking about it in the right ways and caring for any survivors.
To help with this, we are arranging for experts and trainers to come in and conduct Safespace training for the chapter. Hopefully, we can learn more about nonoffensive language on the subject (so we aren’t unintentionally offending people or sending the wrong messages), how to talk to survivors that may approach us as friends, how to confront offenders or somebody who may be about to commit an assault, etc. All of our members mean well, and hopefully a session like this can give them a chance to learn and ask questions from people who have dealt with these issues for years.
PARC: What do you think are some of the better ways students and especially fraternity members can do to foster communication and cultures of respect to uproot cultures that trivialize, naturalize, and excuse rape?
Colin: We know we are small fish in a big ocean, but that should not be discouraging. On a college campus, we are in a unique situation where we can easily reach out to people on a peer-to-peer level. Events like this are great for raising awareness, but they are ineffective unless people can take away from the event that this is a serious problem that we need to be sensitive about. If you can reach out to your friend group and really imprint on them that this kind of culture is toxic and shameful, then that can be a step in a chain-reaction that marginalizes those who continue to perpetuate this culture.
Ignoring the problem like you would a dog that’s acting up isn’t going to change anything, but screaming at somebody who might be cracking jokes on the quiet floor of the library won’t help the cause either. The people you are best-poised to impact are your friends around you who respect your opinions and care about what you have to say – start with them.