Op-ed: Consider this a warning
Read a letter from our editor, Sam Seekings, about this submission here.
Content warning: This article contains sensitive language regarding physical and sexual violence.
I sat in one of the desks of a Seigle Hall classroom. It felt so public; anyone could have walked in and seen me crying as I told my story to the fraternity leadership. I was sexually assaulted at a Welcome Week event last September by a member of their chapter. In November, the same assailant coerced me into bed and raped me, more than once. His actions pushed me to the brink of suicide. I reached out to every resource Vice Chancellor for Students Lori White mentioned in her op-ed and more, but the only resource that saved me were my friends. As I told my rapist’s chapter leaders what happened, the classroom was dead silent. After a short discussion, they looked me in the eye and said it’s their “Internationals’ policy” that if I don’t hand over my confidential Title IX decision, they have no obligation to help me. At best, they said they could put the assailant on social probation, which we have seen is ineffective.
As members of the Greek life community, we would hope that this type of behavior is recognized as contrary to fraternity and sorority values. Standing by members of fraternities who commit these crimes perpetuates a culture of interpersonal violence.
I left the meeting frustrated. I was appalled at their requirement to have access to my Title IX report. I extensively explained the entire Title IX process to them, yet somehow they still didn’t understand that a University Sexual Assault Investigative Board (USAIB) decision does not determine the validity of any story. It merely evaluates whether there is sufficient evidence that the University Student Judicial Code has been violated. Even more importantly, very few survivors ever decide to go through the Title IX process. Requiring the report before implementing basic safety measures excludes and silences so many survivors.
After talking with friends in Greek life who were also appalled, I thought it might be worthwhile to fact check the policy. So, I called the executive director of their Internationals. He was thoroughly familiar with the Title IX process and passionately disappointed in the way fraternity leadership handled my case. I felt validated by the executive director, but more than that, I felt hurt as I realized that I had been lied to after being so vulnerable with the chapter leadership. That policy the leaders had mentioned simply doesn’t exist. Especially as a survivor, it should not have been my responsibility to self-advocate to these total strangers, navigating this situation alone.
In the next week, I met with my Title IX coordinator, Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Austin Sandoval-Sweeney, Director of the Rape and Sexual Violence Prevention Center Kim Webb, the Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline (S.A.R.A.H) and more—I reached out to every possible resource this school offers. I was given emotional support, but no tangible solutions to my failed mission for safety. Title IX was my most promising resource for protection but I was disappointed to hear their complete lack of jurisdiction within Greek life. I asked for the most reasonable accommodations. I have a no contact order, which I thought would extend to anywhere on campus where he posed a threat, but I guess that excludes frat row. The reality is, I wasn’t assaulted in front of my professor in a classroom. I was assaulted in a dark room, surrounded by alcohol. My rapist was a repeat offender, and he was given the power of a fraternity basement for months. Title IX needs to expand their protection abilities.
One week later, I got an email back from the fraternity headquarters confirming that the chapter member had been suspended. Our community got the measures of safety we deserved from the start. But I had to self-advocate, fight for every step of this action. And that’s an unacceptable burden to put on a survivor. Throughout the Title IX process, I’ve been continuously retraumatized by explaining the details of my experiences over and over, but this—being invalidated by fraternity men who I had been taught to trust—almost tops the list of traumatic events.
Sexual assault is prevalent across our entire campus and absolutely affects members of the Washington University community not affiliated with sororities or fraternities. I’m focusing within Greek life because this is what I have personally experienced. The sexual assault experiences of Greek life members are further complicated by our intersecting identities, which haven’t received the attention they deserve.
It’s scandalous that fraternities continually get away with sexual assault and rape. We are failed at two levels: the school and fraternity members themselves. The school pays attention to issues of drug and alcohol abuse—and having guns on campus—but sexual assault and rape get ignored. Each individual fraternity member also has agency to protect our community values, but they continually remain complacent for the sake of their brotherhood’s reputation. My rapist made the dean’s list and “serves our country” as an ROTC cadet—but he will still always be my rapist. Protecting assailants because they are good friends or active members of a brotherhood is inexcusable.
So we are taking matters into our own hands. I want to see changes in Greek life that can echo throughout all facets of our campus. We’re gathering our stories through student-driven platforms that aim to capture the experiences of all sorority women affected by sexual assault, and we’re having meetings with representatives from all sororities to discuss our safety and support systems. We’re demanding action from administration, for all survivors. I don’t want anyone to have to self-advocate the way that I have had to. If you have a perpetrator of sexual violence in your chapter, consider this a warning. We’re going to hold fraternities and other perpetrators of sexual assault accountable for the violence committed on this campus. It’s frustratingly slow work in a massive administrative machine. But we won’t be silenced any longer.
If you agree that one experience like this is one too many, join the movement on Slack. For the link, ask one of the hundreds of people on this campus who are already mobilizing.