The University of Mississippi’s Title IX office has launched an investigation after allegations surfaced on social media that men of the Sigma Chi fraternity asked sorority members questions tainted with sexual innuendo on a loud speaker system in front of hundreds of students at the closing festivities of Derby Days, the fraternity’s annual philanthropic initiative.
Those “allegations” came in the form of an emotional Facebook post by student Abby Bruce, who began,
“Tonight, my eyes watered up as I watched women be humiliated in the name of “philanthropy.” After a week long process of all the sororities on campus competing to raise money for Sigma Chi’s philanthropy, the guys proceeded to ask the contestants for their Derby Days queen over the mic at the dance competition where hundreds of women were gathered “which sigma chi they would go down on,” “what type of sausage would they prefer: linked or sigma chi,” and other questions of the like.”
1. I’m sure Ole Miss administrators are shocked, shocked (I know this “Casablanca” reference is an over-used cliché, but it perfectly fits this episode) that fraternity members would use sexual innuendo at an event like this. In truth, this is undoubtedly been going on for decades, but the combination of the sexual assault posse culture that the Education Department’s “Dear Colleague” letter inflicted on campuses combined with social media shaming prompted the college to act as if it had no idea such vulgarity was going on.
The University of Mississippi has allowed and by its passivity endorsed such piggish conduct in its fraternities, and it is now grandstanding.
2. A Title IX investigation, in this case to see if frat boys making sexual innuendos about sorority girls during an extra-curricular event, is an abuse of the law and free speech intimidation, and is unwarranted, except, I suppose, to make Old Miss immune from government harassment. The test in Title IX is whether conduct with sexual content and intent rises to the level of non-consensual and unwelcome sexual harassment in which students are “deprived of equal and free access to an education.” Being subjected to rude comments on Derby Day when in all likelihood the women participating knew what was coming isn’t going to deprive anyone of anything.
3. The fraternity has apologized, saying that “we failed to do enough to stop certain things that were being said at the event. We were trying to tone it down and stop it. We just didn’t do enough”—you know, like stop it. This is a Level 10 Apology: “An insincere and dishonest apology designed to allow the wrongdoer to escape accountability cheaply, and to deceive his or her victims into forgiveness and trust, so they are vulnerable to future wrongdoing.” At least Otter was honestly contemptuous and defiant:
3. More from Bruce’s post:
“I think the question all Panhellenic women at Ole Miss (and women everywhere, greek or not) should be asking here is “why?” Why do we pay money to participate in these events to be humiliated? Why have we allowed ourselves to be objectified? Women’s fraternities were started as an empowerment movement – what happened?”
Great question, but it proves my point. The women who stood and played along while these frat creeps were degrading them consented to it, and allowed themselves to be objectified. The first woman verbally abused at the event should have walked off the stage. They all should have. By not making their refusal to be abused clear, they consented to participating in a sexist and dehumanizing culture and ritual. They share responsibility for the culture they contribute to by their acceptance of it and participation in it.
4. Abby Bruce is an excellent example of what is meant by “third party harassment.” Though she was only watching other women being verbally degraded, and though those women may not have been offended by their own treatment, Abby’s perception of her own status as a woman on campus was negatively affected. She was correct to walk out. If all the women present had walked out, that would have effectively solved the problem.
5. More Abby:
“Women are scared to speak out about these things. One because they don’t know where to turn, and two because they are afraid that they will not have the support of their chapter. It is time to change that. This is not just a greek system issue. This is about women’s empowerment.”
Let me re-phrase a bit. This is about women behaving like adults, insisting on being treated with respect, but also not changing the rules without warning. Sexual innuendo and crude banter have been staples of college life since male students stopped having to wear ties in the dining halls and dorms eliminated curfews. “Animal House” wasn’t that much of an exaggeration, you know. If Abby was one of the few women at the event who wasn’t laughing and applauding at the sausage jokes, then the assignment is to change a well-entrenched culture of vulgarity and boorishness that both genders are responsible for nourishing. And its is about the greek system. The archaic fraternity and sorority systems breeds abuse of power, drunkenness, sexual misconduct, bullying and jerks, and the occasional “philanthropy” doesn’t justify them.
6. To be clear: the frat members behaved like whatever the opposite of gentlemen are, and cultures—fraternities, Ole Miss— that make any student think that boorish treatment of women or anyone in front of an audience or in a phone booth is civilized conduct need to be overhauled.