Before former Vice President Joe Biden gave his speech at the It’s On Us rally on March 20, student leaders and faculty members spoke about sexual assault, their experiences and the resources available to students on campus.
Some of the speeches were purely informational, while others were more personal and heartfelt. A rape survivor told her moving story with passionate conviction, and a pair of students performed a beautiful piece of slam poetry.
But given the nature of the event, I was shocked to see fraternity members speaking, too. At one point, a frat brother made a comment about perpetrators of sexual assault being “not bad” people who “make bad decisions while intoxicated.”
I’m not trying to launch a personal vendetta on him or any of the frat members that were at the rally. I’m sure some of them are invested in this cause and want to make positive changes in their fraternities, but their prominent presence on stage was inappropriate and made for terrible optics.
I walked away from the rally with questions about the role of fraternities in our current climate, in which women are speaking out about their experiences with assault and abuse.
Frats often uphold and magnify a culture of toxic masculinity, which in turn creates an environment where sexual assault is permissible – or even encouraged. In 2013, an email from a Georgia Tech fraternity member to his Phi Kappa Tau brothers, titled “luring your rapebait” was released. The email provided the brothers with instructions on how to pick a target and coerce her into having sex.
In 2014, the Texas Tech chapter of Phi Delta Theta was stripped of its charter following controversy over a party, which included a banner reading “No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal.” While these examples are problematic for obvious reasons and easy to denounce, the harmful culture perpetuated by frats is much more nebulous.
A 2007 study published by John Foubert, Jerry Tatum and J.T. Newberry found that men in fraternities were three times more likely to commit rape than other male students.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), among undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males experience rape and sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. The real figures are likely higher, since rape and sexual assault are vastly underreported crimes, especially when the victim is male.
Surely, fraternity members are more aware of sexual assault today than they were a few years ago and they have work to do if sexual assault on college campuses is to be eliminated. Education about consent, what constitutes assault and power dynamics plays a huge part in reducing incidents of sexual violence.
Unfortunately, no number of preventative programs or online courses can work if the culture doesn’t change. The task is daunting and would require sweeping administrative policy changes coupled with individual members standing up for what is right, instead of standing up for one another.
Not all frat members are rapists, but every member who sees his brother coerce a drunken person into sleeping with him is complicit. Unless you’re actively working to change the toxic environment, you are part of the problem.
Perhaps at the next rally, frat brothers who want to engage with the topics of sexual assault and gender-based violence should hand over their microphones and listen instead.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual assault, you can find resources and information at itsonus.miami.edu
Alexandra Diaz is a junior majoring in political science and women’s and gender studies.