The UM community’s silence on the Sig Ep allegations is deafening

Photo credit: Kali Ryder

If you Googled “University of Miami” over the last week, you wouldn’t have seen football recaps or news on academic research. Instead, “ugly,” “disturbing,” “drugging allegations” and “misogynistic chanting” would have dominated your search results.

Despite the national headlines, extensive local television and newspaper coverage and the buzz across campus, there seems to be an unspoken understanding throughout the UM community to not formally discuss or share opinions on the drugging allegations against Sigma Phi Epsilon (Sig Ep) or the leaked video of the fraternity’s brothers chanting about sexually assaulting a dead woman. Students who have spoken with The Miami Hurricane and other news sources have almost always requested anonymity, fearing retribution if they are identified. Students worry about being harassed or ostracized socially if they comment publicly on the matter. We have repeatedly been turned away by individuals and campus organizations upon request for a comment.

Students at other universities deliberate, petition and protest when they are not satisfied with the conditions on campus. At UM, we can’t even publicly agree to condemn a song about assaulting a dead woman, something that is obviously not part of a campus culture we want.

There has been little, if any, tangible response from students regarding the allegations. Few are publicly condemning the video and the university’s muted response, students are not protesting or filing complaints with the administration and not even the UM chapter of It’s On Us, a “student- led organization working toward changing campus culture on sexual misconduct”, has addressed the situation or reminded students of the resources available to them.

What makes the video even more shocking and outrageous is how dozens of fraternity members giddily celebrated as they chanted even though they knew they were being recorded on video. This hubris is evidence of a larger problem: The participants apparently were unconcerned to the point of feeling that if the video ended up leaked to the UM community, not much would come of it. So far, they’re right.

The most deafening silence comes from the university itself. For the first five days following news on the fraternity’s closure breaking, the only public comment made was a short statement to The Miami Hurricane by Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely. It was quoted in most news articles covering the Sig Ep controversy.

Since then, The Hurricane has received an additional statement from Jacqueline R. Menendez, Vice President of Communications at UM, which said that “The University of Miami is appalled by the behaviors in the video,” and that “University staff members have met with student groups throughout the week to address their concerns and are encouraging students to report any additional information regarding this event.”

Not so much as an email from student affairs has been sent to the general UM community denouncing the video. The university hasn’t even provided information on relevant resources for students who become victims of sexual violence or non-consensual drugging, as if doing so would confirm Sig Ep as guilty of the allegations it faces.

Beyond the video and the drugging accusations, we must be concerned about the culture of apathy being fostered. Behaviors similar to those exposed at Sig Ep have been alleged at other fraternities. Sig Ep just happened to be the one currently and publicly scrutinized. This does not appear to be an isolated case of bad behavior but an indicator of a much broader normalization of destructive behavior toward women in our own community.

The disturbing video displays more than what Whitely describes as a frat that “violated university policy and participated in behavior that is inconsistent with the values and expectations of the university community.” It’s a glorification of violence against women. And the silence that has followed is a blatant display of a sad trade-off, where students choose social acceptance over actions that could lead to improvements in our campus culture.

Yes, Sig Ep’s national board of directors revoked the charter of its UM chapter. But we are left to wonder whether UM would have severely punished the fraternity had the fraternity’s national headquarters not acted first. Even if UM did, would it have simply been a hushed suspension, as has happened with fraternities on our campus countless times over the years?

Even though no evidence has emerged of sexual assaults at Sig Ep, we must highlight that sexual violence is a major issue for college students. According to RAINN, 26% of female undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. Only 20% of those assaults are reported to law enforcement, according to RAINN’s estimate. Those numbers decrease even more when victims fear shaming or disbelief from their community, or when they don’t have knowledge of or access to relevant resources.

The Student Health Service at UM refers rape examinations to the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center, a 25-minute car ride from campus. The school also doesn’t make any options for non-consensual drug testing accessible to students. Without practical access to these resources, possible victims are often discredited and allegations remain as nothing but allegations.

Students should be able to take comfort in the notion that, if a violation like this were to take place, their university would support them. The aftermath of the Sig Ep party has shown anything but. Vague reassurances made only upon request for comment are rarely indicators of a movement to promote comprehensive beneficial change.

As UM students, we also bear a responsibility in creating the culture that we want on campus. If there’s to be any hope of improvement, those involved in Greek life must want to change their practices, as these behaviors will continue as long as those involved perpetuate them. Even severe penalties and suspensions aren’t likely to change that. However, if we, as a community, stop normalizing and making excuses for harmful behaviors, Greek organizations might be less inclined to accept and encourage them.

We need to ask ourselves what we want going forward. The university and we, as its students, should be embarrassed by the incident and the headlines it’s received. We must also think past this one party and understand that if bad behavior remains normalized, we can sadly expect to see cases that are worse than a video or allegations of drugging. And we won’t have the support system or resources in place to help those who need them.

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire staff or entire editorial board. We encourage questions, concerns and responses to be sent to letters@themiamihurricane.com.