Greek Life Rape Culture And NYU’s Damaging Silence

Earlier this month, the social chair of a Georgia Tech fraternity sent out an email to his brothers in which he detailed the best way to snag hot pieces “rape bait” at frat parties. Although the author, who has since stepped down, is now pulling the “ha ha, it was all just a joke, guys!” card, the email highlights the unfortunate yet recognizable relationship between Greek life and rape culture.

Despite what the fan fiction may tell you, Greek life isn’t important to the majority of NYU’s student body—only 7% of students belong to a sorority or fraternity. And with a student body that practically gets off on feeling so liberal, educated, and enlightened, it’s easy to assume that the Greek life/rape culture relationship is non-existent on our non-campus. In fact, many members of Greek life do take that stance.

“That’s a joke,” one NYU fraternity brother said in a Facebook comment when a classmate mentioned the possibility of an on-campus rape culture perpetuated by Greek life. “That’s the stereotypical NYU feminist reaction…I’ve never touched a woman who didn’t want me to in my life.”

But despite what our resident brothers and sisters may insist, a culture that promotes misogyny, undervalues consent, and downplays rape allegations is not exclusive to schools with real campuses, football teams, and people who wear sweatpants.

“I was at an NYU frat party once, and [fraternity members] kept trying to shove drinks in my hands but I wouldn’t drink them,” said sophomore Nina*, who has been the target of “rape bait”-esque tactics listed in the Georgia Tech email. “After a while…I turned around and saw [two fraternity members] deep in conversation…about which one would ‘get’ me…They didn’t seem at all troubled that I was standing right there, because they thought I was drunk. Then, they did rock-paper-scissors [to decide], and then openly tried to corner me.”

Although I personally am not involved in Greek life, I have been to a handful of frat parties during my time at NYU. It’s terrifying to think that if I had accepted a red Solo cup of shitty jungle juice from the wrong person, I could have been victimized. It’s unnerving to think that, for all I know, two frat bros may have been playing their own game of rock-paper-scissors to decide who got to get me drunk and take me home. College is supposed to be the best four years of a person’s life, but it’s hard to fully enjoy it when you’re plagued with fear that you could so easily become a victim.

Part of the problem here is the mindset that women are nothing but big-titted objects of sexual conquest, rather than, you know, human beings with thoughts and opinions worth hearing. Fraternities are notorious for their “Bro, look at that hot babe! I’m totally gonna fuck her!” behavior, though NYU’s sororities are not entirely blameless. Although you don’t hear the whispered tales of sorority sisters slipping roofies into your drinks, the female half of Greek life does help perpetuate the idea that a woman’s worth is based on her sexuality.

“In my sorority, [an older member] was influencing new members—girls who were not yet initiated—to sleep with fraternity guys in order to elevate our reputation on campus,” a member of an NYU sorority said. “…Being pressured into sleeping with men in order to ‘elevate status’ is downright repulsive, and most of us do not want to have that sort of reputation on campus anyway.”

Obviously, not all fraternity brothers are sexist rape-monsters, and not all sorority sisters live by the “fuck your way to the top” philosophy. Rape culture extends beyond the confines of Greek life, even at a school as liberal as NYU.

“Our community generally assumes that it just doesn’t happen here,” sophomore Alexis said. “But…the thought that we are too good for that to happen to us is exactly what cultivates a strong rape culture.”

In almost every humanities class I’ve taken at NYU, there has been an emphasis on the importance of women and their equal role in society. Yet I’ve been told by complete strangers that I’m “asking to be raped” and “should be ashamed of myself” when wearing a short skirt around campus. I’ve heard my peers talk about sexism and how wrong it is in the classroom, but then make rape jokes once they step outside the lecture hall. We treat rape culture like it’s just an unchangeable part of the way the world works.

Even though my parents raised me to be a strong, independent woman, I can’t help but be disheartened when I realize that the cute boy at the party is only talking to me because he expects me to touch his genitals, or when I’m called a “tease” and a “bitch” for wearing a short dress, but not putting out. Even the strongest-willed young woman can’t help but question herself when confronted with so many messages that can make a person reconsider the basis for her worth and role in society.

“It’s really fucked up, because I’ve seen rape culture manifest itself so many times that I can’t really single any one [instance] out as being the worst,” sophomore Gina said. “I went to a party as a naïve freshman and got really drunk. I was about to pass out, but distinctly remember a guy saying, ‘You look like you’re about to pass out,’ then rubbing my leg and insisting that I go to his room with him, even when I said I didn’t want to. He was being so nice that he made me feel like the dick for not wanting to go with him.”

In my time at college, I’ve met some of the most amazing, intelligent women. But even some of these incredible people have been taught that their worth is based on their sexuality.

“I was told that if I couldn’t count the number of guys I slept with on one hand I should be ashamed of myself. But I get slut-shamed a lot,” sophomore Becky said.

Even the most independent women I know at NYU have been taught that they should be submissive, non-sexual darlings. Conversely, many of the men I know have been taught to assume a sexually dominant role, and that sometimes a dude just can’t control his sexual urges.

These attitudes help nurture not only the idea that, when a woman says “no,” she really means “yes,” but is afraid of being labeled a slut, but also the notion that “boys will be boys” who sometimes just can’t stop themselves in the heat of the moment. Subsequently, these types of attitudes make it difficult for rape victims at NYU to be taken seriously.

“One of my best friends of last year got me blackout drunk one night and forced himself on me—no actual intercourse, but everything short of that… I brought it up to my RA, who was very supportive, but as the issue worked its way up the NYU chain of authority, I was asked things like, ‘Are you a virgin? What were you wearing? Had you given him hints before? How close are the two of you? Could he have received mixed signals? Was he as drunk as you?’, and I felt very attacked,” sophomore Courtney said. “The only disciplinary action that was taken was that we were no longer allowed to speak to each other… [This year], he is back living on campus with no repercussions except that he can’t come into my dorm [room]. At the end of it all, I was just told I was lucky I wasn’t written up for an alcohol violation.”

For individuals who have been lucky enough to not become victims of sexual assault or harassment, it may be easy to dismiss horror stories like Courtney’s as the problematic-yet-inevitable occurrences of an imperfect world; however, recognizing the validity and seriousness of rape and sexual assault is necessary to rectify the flawed culture that exists on college campuses.

“I watched a screening of Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring” [in one of my classes], including [its] very graphic gang rape scene. When the scene [played], over half [lecture hall] burst into laughter,” Alexis said, echoing the importance of recognizing rape accusations. “…As a victim of sexual assault, I felt more discomfort than they could possibly know. I was sitting in a theater full of my peers laughing at my biggest struggle in life.”

Rape culture in colleges is a difficult, often unpleasant issue to talk about, but it’s one that needs to be addressed. We are consistently ranked as one of the most liberal and open-minded schools in the country, yet not only can we find stories of rape culture throughout our community, but our campus is still lacking a rape crisis center.

“I love NYU,” Alexis said in her final remarks. “I just wish it could love me back.”

 

*All names have been changed.

[Image via]



24 Comments

  • Olivia Loving
    October 23, 2013

    Not entirely related to this article – good use of sources, btw- but in an NYU class I revealed that I’d been on my first date the weekend before (it was a small creative writing class so conversation was chill) and a guy asked me if I’d “put out.” I was shocked someone in an NYU class would say that, especially to someone’s face, and it made me wonder what wasn’t being said.

  • Dear Dana Daniels,

    I produce a feminist radio show on WBAI and would like to get in touch with you about your article above. We are producing a show on sexual assault on campus and would like to interview you. Please get in touch asap at email address that I posted to get onto the blog.

    Thanks so much!

  • Lowell Joseph Gallin
    October 23, 2013

    “damaging silence”? of course, the “nice” people are almost always silent in situations like these.and they, the “nice” people, the powers that be, expect the victims – and those who think to stand up for them – to be silent too (OR ELSE). solution? “there will [no longer] be silence in the house of bernarda alba” (garica lorca). homework: http://lowelljosephgallinlowellslife.blogspot.co.il/2013/01/there-will-no-longer-be-silence-in.html

  • Rachel Berne
    November 14, 2013

    Let’s check some facts here…

    According to US News and World Report, 8% of men at NYU are in a fraternity and 5% of women are in a sorority (http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/new-york-university-2785/student-life?int=c6b9e3).

    That means 13% of NYU undergraduate students are involved in Greek life. This percentage excludes academic and professional Greek letter societies (but includes multicultural Greek letter societies) so the real number is higher than that. With about 22,500 undergraduate students, that puts the number of people in Greek life at roughly 3,000 (2,925 if you want to get specific).

    So this sentence – “Greek life isn’t important to the majority of NYU’s student body—only 7% of students belong to a sorority or fraternity” – is incorrect. It’s 13% and over 3,000 students (including academic & professional Greek orgs). Greek life is the largest organization at NYU by FAR, so if the largest organization at NYU isn’t important, then I’m not sure what is.

    Do you really think that you can generalize about what a community of over 3,000 students is like without actually experiencing it yourself? There are so many different Greek letter organizations (to name all the ones I know of: social, community service, multicultural, professional, academic) that it would be extremely irresponsible to put out a headline as misleading as “GREEK LIFE RAPE CULTURE.” Really? What kind of crappy sensationalist reporting is this? NYU Local should know better than to endorse this type of yellow journalism. Your “sources” are mere he-said, she-said heresy and in no way prove that there is a “recognizable relationship between Greek life and rape culture.”

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