Dear Fraternity Member,
I believe that you have the power to end rape.
As a member of a fraternity, you have the ability to harness your social power and leadership skills to move the needle on important issues affecting your campus, including sexual violence.
Before I go any further, I want to address the elephant in the room. The image of fraternity men as a whole has grown into a one-note, hyper masculine profile of a sexual predator. Formed by several widely publicized cases involving fraternity men, the stereotype has grown into the image of groups of men who encourage violence against women, binge drinking, and misogyny.
I went to a large state school for my undergraduate degree, and Greek life was a big part of our campus culture. As a freshman student, I was warned about which fraternities were the most predatory, and urged not to attend their parties. The stories I have heard from my friends, and the behavior I witnessed at some of the parties I decided to attend anyway, were not horribly far off from the stereotypes that persist today.
Of course, I know that not all men who belong to fraternities are sexually violent; in fact, I strongly believe that the vast majority of fraternity men, and men outside of the Greek system, do not commit sexual violence; rather, a small number of repeat offenders mar the image of the entire group. I am not writing this letter to those few men who have been sexually violent. I am writing this to the rest of you who are now tasked with the challenge of proving this widespread image wrong.
Before immediately countering this negative stigma, however, I believe it’s important to first hold space for acknowledging the real harm that has been caused by various fraternity men in this country. Any successful activism requires self-reflection, acceptance, and accountability; by refusing to defend these men who have made the choice to harm someone, you lend a sincerity to your efforts to put forth a healthier, alternative image of brotherhood. We must acknowledge and reflect on harm before moving forward, but it is imperative to move forward.
So, where do you go from here? Instead of taking this negative connotation as a threat, I encourage you to view it as an opportunity to challenge this stereotype, harness the social capital afforded to you as a fraternity member, and prove that violence is not what brotherhood is all about.
Both during my time as a college student, and as an employee at a rape crisis center, I have witnessed fraternity men stepping up to this very challenge, and taking action to create a new identity as social change leaders. As values-based organizations with plenty of structure and resources, fraternities are poised to become leaders against sexual violence on college campuses. A helpful place to start is by asking yourselves and your brothers: what are our values? How will we demonstrate those values? Who do we want to be as individuals, and as a fraternity?
Carve out space and time to have these difficult conversations with your brothers. I spoke with a fraternity member here in Chicago whose fraternity sets aside time monthly to discuss bystander intervention and consent scenarios, an easy, but important way for them to work on this issue as a group. Try this option, and discuss what consent looks like, and how to practice consent. Discuss rape culture and strategize around how to call out sexism in your fraternity, and on your campus. Familiarize yourself with how sexual violence affects a survivor’s physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health. Brainstorm ideas for supporting survivors both on and off campus. If you need help with these conversations, reach out to your campus wellness center, or a local rape crisis center. These discussions will provide a firm starting place for acting on the values that you and your brothers have outlined for your fraternity.
Of course, through philanthropy events and fundraisers, fraternities have already begun to put their values into action. It’s important, however, to take your activism a step further than philanthropy. Philanthropy events fulfill the fraternity’s requirements; showing true solidarity in the anti-rape movement demands going beyond what is required, to doing what is right.
Depending on your campus culture, as a fraternity member, you are often viewed as a social leader on your campus. With this position of visibility and power, fraternities can amplify the cause even further through campus events, protests, conversations, and even social media campaigns. Bring the Clothesline Project to your campus, hold a protest during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, host round-table discussions about consent and healthy sexuality, partner with sororities to create social campaigns- the possibilities are endless.
I feel confident that you can successfully take action and have these conversations, because you aren’t doing it alone. Connection is the backbone of any social justice work, and within your fraternity are innumerable opportunities to connect. You and your brothers will be able to hold one another accountable to the values of your fraternity.
Why do all of this? Beyond the fact that taking action against sexual violence can help counter the harmful image of fraternity men as violent, the good that comes from these actions will spread. New pledges, your brothers, and folks outside of the Greek system will see you modeling your values. When people are given an example of what strong leaders and healthy sexuality look like, they are more likely to live those values themselves. Role models are the folks who set, or reset, campus culture.
So, when I say that I believe you have the power to end rape, I mean it. I am encouraged by the fraternity members I have spoken to who are eager to get involved, and who feel strongly that it is their duty to do so. I know that you will not let a small number of men who made a violent choice shape what brotherhood looks like, and what being in a fraternity means. I am excited to witness a new wave of activism in the Greek community, and I am standing by, ready to assist in any way I can.
Your Local Rape Crisis Worker
This letter is part of a series by Kat Stuehrk, Northside Prevention Educator at Rape Victim Advocates, developed for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s 2017 Sexual Assault Awareness Month Theme, “Engaging New Voices”.