Observations On The ‘Ole Miss’ Sigma Chi Derby Days Controversy

Derby DaysNews Item:

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.


Pointer: Fred

26 thoughts on “Observations On The ‘Ole Miss’ Sigma Chi Derby Days Controversy

  1. 2: It appears from the video that the event was held on campus. Since university facilities were used and the university is supposed to prevent harassment in its spaces, I don’t think it’s on its face unreasonable to investigate.

    • Uh, the video is a short scene from “Animal House”. I think Jack was trying to make a point about non apology “apologies.

    • There are too many “investigations,” and they are used to intimidate. Bad jokes in a non class setting where the targets of the jokes willingly participated shouldn’t spark “investigations.” How does piggish behavior at a fundraiser interfere with education? How could it, unless some poor delicate plant decided that she couldn’t show her face in class again because some ass said her nickname was “BJ”?

      • Be that as it may, using a university stadium isn’t the same as renting out a hall for a banquet. It’d be closer to booking a convention and probably with more restrictions than a hotel would have. There’ll be rules about following campus policies, there’ll be a code of conduct. If students felt harassed at an on campus event the university should investigate.

          • From who? I’d still think ill of them. An investigation? That would depend on if or how exactly the fraternities are affiliated with the university which necessarily varies from campus to campus. Then I’d say that if they’re investigating then there must be a code of conduct that the university is empowered to enforce.

            Perhaps it is not a fair assumption on my part but I believe the university wouldn’t announce an investigation into anything they’re not actually empowered to investigate. Doing so would only add to their embarrassment over the incident.

            • I think that’s a fairly weak cop out. Stories break weekly about schools enforcing rules outside their mandate with feeble ties to codes of conduct.

              But I was talking more to the protest-culture and their imposition of censorship. If someone is illegitimately sued into oblivion, I don’t think that’s materially different from using a school’s investigation in that the goal was to silence the dissident opinion. They’re both tools to achieve the outcome, not the outcome in and of themselves. And as a bonus, both would almost certainly fail. If the Greeks push this issue, I’m almost certain they’ll win in the long run, but not before it becomes expensive.

          • Yes. Let’s take it to an extreme. Two white men loudly talk to each other of a desire to bring back lynchings in the presence of a black man.

            Creating a hostile environment is harassment.

            • Interesting. Overhearing a conversation in a public space creates a hostile environment? Take THAT to an extreme.

              But let’s say, rhetorically, that I agree with you. What punishment do you think suitable for the women who participated in the event? It’s been pointed out, they were willing participants who knew what they were signing up for, if these conversations created a hostile environment, and that constitutes harassment to a third party, there should be consequences, right?

          • Jane Doe: “I’m fine and I wasn’t raped.”
            Jane Doe: “Our stories are the same and he’s a good guy. He’s not a rapist, he’s not a criminal, it’s not even worth any of this hoopla!”

            “Both Doe and her mother pressed the administrators of the athletic training program—a husband and wife team—to drop the matter…”

          • Also.. way to bury the lede:

            “Grant was lying on top of me and I told him that I did not want to have sexual intercourse with him that is unprotected because I am not on any birth control. Although I told Grant no, Grant ended up penetrating me … and I told him to stop. He stopped and pulled out from me immediately. Grant then said to me that if he used a condom, would I be okay with that. I told Grant yes to the condom. Grant placed on the condom and we began to have protected sex at this point which I was okay with it.”

            That same night, Oct. 27, the woman met with Neal and went to his home. His roommates were gone and again Neal and the woman engaged in consensual sex. This time his roommates returned home. One of them, Quinn Vandekoppel, opened the door to Neal’s room and saw the pair engaged in sexual intercourse with the woman atop Neal. Vandekoppel told CBS4, “You don’t come back to your alleged rapist’s house and engage in sex with them the night after the incident. It just doesn’t make any sense at all.”

            Sounds an awful lot like Grant went to go have sex with a consenting partner and in the moment forgot her preference for protection. Definitely not rape, definitely not any reasonable standard of nonconsensual-sex (including the “victim’s”), and definitely worthy of a multi-year sentence that lacks some of the most basic aspects of due process. What a cheap shot valkygrrl.

              • Look at you trying to atomize the rights and wrongs of human behavior down to some mechanical simple-machines level – how ambitious of you. Unfortunately people aren’t levers and pulleys and the ethics issues surrounding them can rarely be summed up at such myopic scope.

                Was she a consenting partner? Did she feel violated? Did she feel like Grant had done anything wrong? The answers are by her own word and actions, (respectively) yes, no, and no. Are you seriously arguing that under these circumstances the man deserves a multi-year suspension? Are you seriously denying this women the sexually agency to decide that her sex was consensual? As if Grant momentarily penetrating her without a condom is the equivalent to rape and she’s just too stupid to know better? Silly womins amirite, valkygrrl? For shame, for shame.

                No, the penetration without protection was a clumsy but otherwise unremarkable snafu in two young people’s consensual budding romance and deserves about as much meddling by the school/government as how one makes a ham sandwich.

              • How much time passed after the initial request not to be penetrated without protection before that penetration? The statement glosses over details, and “ended up” suggests it was not immediate. Forgetting the request to use protection until reminded of it during an extended encounter, which is the most natural interpretation of the statement given the context, should not be considered rape.

    • Harvard banned frats long before my father was there. The clubs, which are by invitation non-resident rich boy frat-like entities that most of the students have nothing to do with, have indeed been declining in prestige for decades. There is no Greek system at Harvard, though.

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