I’m disappointed with the WSA. I was really hoping that this year would be different under the new leadership, and I’m deeply frustrated to see another meeting that does not make space for survivors, and allows fraternity members to dominate the conversation. I want to acknowledge that the role of WSA is really hard because they have no real power within the administration and often get blamed for their structural challenges, but the WSA failed on several fronts in this meeting. They did not reach out to the survivor community of Wesleyan, even though they did reach out to the greek community. Many folks I know didn’t come because they didn’t even know this meeting was happening. I felt really insulted that organizations that perpetrate rape and gendered violence got precedence over communities that are victim to them. This set up an inherently unequal playing field and ensured an unproductive conversation.
Not only did the WSA not reach out to survivors- they also did not include assault as a topic on the agenda. The meeting was clearly set with fraternities in mind rather than survivors, or other members of the student body. For example- the first agenda items pertained to knowledge only fraternity brothers have access to: university transparency in the fraternity decisions and the successes and challenges of the coeducation process. By setting the agenda around the fraternities’ interests there was little space in the meeting to voice concerns about the social role of fraternities. The last item was the only set aside place to include discussions of responsibility and safe spaces, but the structure of the meeting required that survivors sit through the whole prior conversation to speak. I’m pretty sure if i hadn’t shown up this conversation might not even have addressed assault at all. If the WSA had planned the meeting with survivors (or even the broader Wesleyan com munity in mind) rather than the privileged members of our community who participate in Greek life the primary question should have been why does greek life even exist. Why should fraternity brothers have a right to this privileged space on campus when they have repeatedly hurt and abused other members of the community?
Another major oversight of the WSA was the lack of a safe space set up until i asked for one to be set up at the beginning. I was put on the spot to decide what was acceptable as a space for the entire community, putting a lot of pressure on me as an individual to speak for a community I can’t possibly represent in its entirety. As a result the space set up failed on several fronts. It shouldn’t have been specifically designated as a “survivor” space because by doing so it outs those who go to the space and makes it difficult for people to actually leave since people will then assume they’ve been assaulted. Finally I’m disappointed that the WSA did not include Eclectic in the conversation because I think they also need to be held accountable for the ways in which they have hurt members of the Wesleyan community.
I’m also frustrated with the people at the meeting who told me afterwards that they wanted to support me, but did not speak up during the meeting. I understand the desire to cede space to survivors, but the best way to support is to be a vocal ally. As a general rule of thumb you should cede space to marginalized groups if they want to speak, but you shouldn’t force them to. Despite repeatedly voicing that I didn’t actually want to be at the meeting and that it was really difficult for me to speak- very few other voices came out in support. As a result, I felt like I was speaking for all the survivors at Wesleyan against the entire Greek community. Speaking as a survivor of sexual assault is really really hard for me because I feel like I have to continuously claim assault and survivor status to be heard- a status I’m constantly grappling with. The best thing that supporters and allies could have done was to fill the stack and speak out with words of support and frust ration.
I had to leave the meeting early- so I couldn’t voice how I think these spaces should be changed or what I think student-run spaces and weekend life should look like. It’s time that these societies take responsibility for themselves. I’ve been thinking a lot about what Karmenife wrote about Eclectic on facebook earlier today- that “as a community space, you have a RESPONSIBILITY to keep that space safe. You have a responsibility to keep a watchful eye on who is in the house and establish a status within it that states that sexual, gender, racial, violence will not be tolerated.” It’s more than just trying to make a space safe- it’s about actively and transparently centering the goal of the space on safety. To do so the greek societies must start by publicly acknowledge the fact that they’ve fucked up and expel perpetrators from the society, even alumni, and especially those that are living on campus. When greek members act against the interests of the communi ty at large, their greek society should disassociate from them.
Additionally these societies need to take proactive measures such as at the very least booking more performers who are not cis white men, opting instead for female, queer and performers of color. Ultimately, if fraternities seriously care about sexual violence and rape culture and not just about throwing parties without getting yelled at then they must realize that this work can happen without a house. Most other organizations that seek to make change on this campus do not have access to a giant beautiful house, and we figure out how to organize. The societies should leverage their power not just to have less assault in their own spaces, but to help lead eradication of rape culture on campus.
I used to think that coeducation was a productive step, but after this meeting I’m not so sure fraternities should exist at all. I’m sick of hearing frat brothers talk about how difficult it is to coeducate and how much work they’ve been doing- because while I understand that changing centuries old oppressive systems is difficult (believe me- it’s what I spend a lot of my time trying to do) – it also shouldn’t be taking so long. While I respect the women in Psi U and I hear that you’ve found safe spaces in that frat- your safety does not erase or justify the pain and suffering of scores of other women at this school. It doesn’t make sense why we even have exclusive societies with access to some of the only large event spaces on campus. If the issue is about maintaining student autonomy then we should be fighting for actual student autonomy and off-campus housing, not for maintaining autonomy for only a single privileged group. I think the university should acq uire the fraternity houses and hold an open forum and proposal process where groups can submit ideas for alternative uses of these spaces – like a center for the houseless population of Middletown, a collective arts space, or a concert hall specifically for QTPOC acts. I think this is the conversation we need to be having- not whether or not fraternities hosting a poetry slam or a bystander intervention training makes them “safe,” but whether or not the fraternities are actually meeting the needs of our community.
If you’re interested in engaging with and working towards a post-fraternity conversation about student spaces and eradicating rape culture and gender oppression at this school then email me at email@example.com.
Sophie Sokolov is a member of the Class of 2018.