Special OpEd by Rachel Benner
Vox Siren, Social Media Engagement Intern
Sexual violence on college campuses is pervasive. The recent outrage over Brock Turner’s sentencing is just the tip of a sinister iceberg, one that permeates nearly every college campus today. For students involved in fraternity and sorority life, this issue is especially important for us to address.
Here are the facts: According to a 2014 study, women in sororities at the University of Oregon are over three times more likely to experience sexual violence than their non-Greek fellow students. More recently, an external review of the Oregon Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) community reported peer pressure within sororities not to report sexual violence for fear of social repercussions, among other concerning conclusions.
I hear these findings and I cringe. I am a sorority sister, and a member of the Oregon FSL community, but disturbing reports like this one make it hard for me to reconcile that part of my identity with my feminism-- and, frankly, with my desire to be a decent human being. How can I knowingly align myself with a group that pushes issues like sexual assault under the rug?
I’m still trying to answer this question. Most days I am proud of my Greek membership. My sorority was founded with arguably feminist motives: 12 women came together in 1867 to support each other during a time when women were a small minority on college campuses. They pledged to have each others’ backs, and to live with integrity, honor, respect, and sincere friendship.
With this historical context, it is even more disturbing that sorority women are at greater risk for sexual assault then the other students. Members of a group created to support women in a patriarchal world are now facing its dangers at higher rates. Assaults are always the fault of the perpetrator, but rape culture shifts the blame to the victim, who, as this report shows, are often members of sororities.
Sorority history and values are empowering, and they reflect the personal experience I have had. The relationships I’ve formed in the last two years through my sorority have been invaluable. The strong, motivated women I have met offer me incredible support as I navigate the challenges of university life.
When I look at this external review’s alarming findings, I struggle to reconcile two worlds: the sorority life I live, and the FSL community as a whole. The report does not reflect my day-to-day experiences, but at the same time, I cannot deny that it shines light on a dangerous reality.
Denial is an inescapable feature of the FSL community right now. Members feel victimized and targeted by “the media.” They’re quick to point out successful philanthropy events, genuine mentorship and powerful anti-sexual violence campaigns within sororities and fraternities. These things, they argue, are rarely publicized.
While some of these claims are valid, every time I hear some version of “they’re picking on us!,” I push back. Yes, we do positive work, and many students have extremely positive Greek experiences, but sexual assaults are being covered up and ignored in our culture. Nothing can excuse that. FSL doesn’t just have a PR problem. We have a serious culture problem, as well.
When I think of the incredible things my sorority sisters have accomplished, and of what I have learned from my FSL experience, I have hope that change is possible. For example, my sorority produced a production of the Vagina Monologues in February to raise awareness and funds for sexual violence prevention efforts. We received incredible support from FSL as a whole, and the entire process was incredibly empowering. Greek organizations, particularly for women, have untapped potential to challenge the status quo and transform the lives of their members. That’s why many of them began. One day, maybe these organizations will reconnect with their supportive --even feminist-- roots.
For that to happen, however, the denial has to stop. As an FSL member, I have a responsibility to face these facts in this external review and denounce the dark side of our organizations. I hope that the rest of my community chooses to do the same.
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