March 21, 2018

GUEST ROOM | The Greeks’ Unassailable Mindset

Print More

My time on the IFC Executive Board has convinced me of several things. None of which, however, have been more salient than the pervasiveness of sexual violence in our community. This declaration and the issues are certainly not new, but I struggle to justify my leadership within the IFC without publicly acknowledging that our institution has consistently tolerated, if not facilitated, sexual violence on our campus.

I struggle to look victims and survivors in the eye with the knowledge that the community I represent has brought about their trauma. I struggle to take pride in my Greek identity while also recognizing the Greek system has so profoundly hurt so many of my friends and peers.

I am not writing this to say that sexual violence only occurs in fraternities or is only perpetrated by fraternity men. That statement would be untrue. Nor am I saying that if Greek life did not exist on our campus, sexual harassment and sexual assault would stop all together. I know this isn’t the case. But while sexual violence and sexual assault is not specifically a Greek issue, it is undeniably an issue within the Greek community. It is undeniably an issue perpetuated within the IFC.

For the same reason that fraternities often embolden leaders, our community too emboldens perpetrators. Those in fraternities who would never consider committing sexual assault are nonetheless creating platforms for perpetrators of sexual violence to believe that their activity is normal, and platforms that allow perpetrators to get away with it. Fraternity men can and should vehemently condemn sexual violence in our community. Many of us do. But condemning the actions of perpetrators without also acknowledging that we belong to a system that is facilitating their behavior will never be enough. If you’re in a fraternity and reading this thinking, “This message doesn’t apply to me; I would never commit sexual assault,” congratulations for doing the bare minimum. Practicing consent in your personal life is mandatory, and, frankly, an incredibly low bar to set for yourself.

This message does apply to you, because while not committing assault is obviously part of the solution, we need to recognize our additional responsibility.

Right now, we are fostering an untouchable mindset within fraternity men on this campus. We are telling perpetrators that they can do what they want, take what they want and our system will protect them. I can make that statement because I have seen fraternities attempt, and often succeed, to defame and silence survivors who try to tell their story. I have seen fraternities wage smear campaigns, attempting to shame survivors into believing their harassment, drugging or assault was somehow their own fault. We cannot keep perpetuating and internalizing the mindset that assailants are too wealthy, too powerful and too entitled to face repercussions for their actions. We often approach the entire Greek system with the same thought process. Convincing ourselves that the Greek system will never go away because of our powerful alumni, our housing and our social prestige only further convinces chapters and members that they are “too big to fail.” Thinking that you are untouchable is dangerous, and easily weaponized. And frankly, it’s untrue.

If we believe that the IFC and the Greek system deserves to exist on this campus, fraternity men need to accept our responsibility in confronting the systemic culture of sexual violence in our community. Firstly, we need to stop vouching for perpetrators. I have far too often seen misogynist jokes about sexual assault justified as harmless humor, toxic relationships rationalized as “well, that’s just how they are,” and serial offenders written off as “a little creepy but well-meaning.” This needs to end.

Secondly, we need to recognize that we may not be directly at fault for sexual misconduct within our system, but are nonetheless accountable and responsible. We cannot wipe our hands clean of guilt if we continue to normalize behavior that falls on the spectrum of sexual violence. We cannot continue to feed a system where the assumption is that if someone is assaulted at a fraternity event, they were asking for it or even that they should have expected it because of what they were wearing or what they were drinking. We cannot continue to provide a safe haven for offenders who hide behind our system and our letters, because we are conditioning them that their behavior is acceptable. It’s not. If we cannot hold ourselves accountable to these standards, our system has no place on this campus.

 

Luke Bianco is a junior in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning and the executive vice president of the Interfraternity Council. Comments can be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com. Guest Room appears periodically.