‘We really need to come together as a community’: WPA, IFC respond to anonymous email and art demonstration
An activist art demonstration was constructed on fraternity row depicting the amount of reported sexual violence across fraternities, in response to an email from an anonymous fraternity member, early Thursday morning.
The email, sent to members of Women’s Panhellenic Association (WPA) executive board and several sorority presidents, was in response to Interfraternity Council’s (IFC) House Walk Through Initiative. During the initiative, members of WPA leadership walked through each of the houses to point out areas of concern and WPA members were surveyed to provide recommendations on how each fraternity could improve their spaces during social events.
The anonymous email account, named “Wash. U. Frats,” voiced the belief that the WPA had “taken it too far” with their complaints about fraternity housing and included the message that fraternities “are not [WPA’s] servants.”
“The fact of the matter is that this [House Walk Through Initiative] was a safety initiative,” WPA president junior Aidan Lisker said. “It has nothing to do with beautifying the house, it really has to do with the fact that we want to make it safer. It doesn’t seem like that should be an imposition.”
The art demonstration is a visual representation of the number of women in sororities who have “experienced unwanted sexual contact from a member of any of the greek organizations,” as reported in a WPA survey last semester. Alpha Phi sophomore Gabby Kleinberg built the display based on a project from her Drawing I class.
“The assignment was to draw a map of anything. So I knew I wanted to do… some sort of commentary on Frat Row… I drew [the fraternity houses] on the ground and then underground I had the bars that corresponded with the data,” Kleinberg said. “The idea was to have it that these frats are sitting on top of the bars, and that the bars are buried underneath them. As I was going through the project, more and more things started falling into place in terms of how I wanted to organized it aesthetically. I decided to write on the bars, which ended up being a really powerful statement.”
Kleinberg said that she had already planned on expanding the reach of her art project beyond the classroom, and the anonymous email spurred her to action.
“I knew that I had to do something involving my piece from my drawing class. I was initially just going to print them out and paste them on the houses and then I came up with the idea of making full sized bars corresponding to the percentages,” Kleinberg said. “So the 14% category, those [bars] were 14 feet each. And I was just going to have those and lean them against the houses and then my friend was like ‘no, you should put them all together near the tennis court or something.’”
IFC president junior Jimmy Abraham supported the message behind the installation and was hopeful that it could lead to more open dialogue regarding sexual violence.
“Taking ownership that there are people in our community who do think this, regardless or not whether it’s a majority, or a couple, or whatever, this is still a mindset that does exist and it’s something to address,” Abraham said. “With the art installation, some people could take that as something to be polarized and decisive about, and try to pick sides, but instead we could use that to come together and work on a single issue.”
Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) took their bar from the display Thursday morning before returning it to its original place later that night.
“Obviously since I worked so hard and long on it, I was kind of upset that they tried to destroy it,” Kleinberg said. “But I think it definitely, honestly added to the piece the fact that they took it. I think it just showed so much about their unwillingness to be accountable. They actually put it back at about 10:30 last night before my friends and I setup the roses.”
According to Abraham, a member of SAE, the president initially removed the bar because of his belief that the installation was not a productive way to approach the issue, preferring open dialogue. He then put it back after realizing that “people should be able to express themselves in any way that they want to.”
Kleinberg and her friends planned on placing roses in the empty space where SAE’s bar should have been.
“After they took it down, my friend had the idea where we would just put flowers to symbolize the survivors of that fraternity,” Kleinberg said. “I got $250 donations from girls in my sorority and girls in other sororities… And we purchased the 118 flowers and we were going to lay them down in the length of the bar that they removed, but they put it back minutes before we got there. So we laid the flowers on top of it, the mission statement, but we left the statistics still visible. I was just really shocked that they took it in the first place.”
Moving forward, IFC Director of Standards and house manager junior Sean Dunnsue wants to continue to prioritize guest safety in the houses and said that the installation was effective in bringing issues within the Greek community to light.
“Improving the houses as spaces for both guests and members is something that’s really been an emphasis, and we want to continue to make these spaces safer going forward,” Dunnsue said. “The views expressed in terms of that being something imposed on us by the WPA just are not true at all and are pretty baseless. We really do want to continue to make that emphasis and I think feedback is one of the most important parts of that … to make sure that we can create safe spaces going forward and that we can prevent incidents like those described in the WPA survey and those in the art installation.”
Kleinberg said that she doesn’t know how long her display will remain in place and hasn’t thought about next steps.
“I think there are so many women doing so many things in terms of next steps. So WPA, risk managers, presidents I think they’re doing a lot of really great things and I think what I did was just my own guerrilla art activism,” Kleinberg said. “I’m glad that it kept the conversation going or started some discourse, especially among fraternity brothers, some of them were really really into it. I really liked that. I had a brother in a fraternity reach out to me and say ‘if there’s anything I or we can do, this was so impactful’. I want to be a part of that [the discourse] but the purpose was just to put it there.”
Next semester, Lisker and Abraham aim to make cohesive education initiatives for members of both fraternities and sororities a major priority.
“Because of the timing of the email, it’s difficult for us to say that during finals ‘everyone has to come have this mandatory meeting,’ like that’s just not realistic,” Lisker said. “Jimmy and I will talk over the summer and try to ensure that we’re all on the same page on ensuring that people are getting a more comprehensive understanding of what the power dynamics are [and] how they impact different people in different ways.”
Lisker continued on to say that in order to create change, open communication between IFC and WPA must occur. They do not plan to attempt to identify the anonymous member, and although they encourage him to reach out and start a conversation, they are more focused on the bigger picture.
“It’s not the responsibility of one side to educate the other, so I think that going forward, we really need to come together as a community and have open dialogue, and be willing to be vulnerable with one another so that productive change can actually happen, as opposed to just like singling one another out,” Lisker said. “My hope for the next semester is that we can really come together.”