As Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) begins the process of regaining its house on High Street and re-establishing its position within the Wesleyan community, questions about the fraternity’s role on campus are coming to the surface. The departure of the class of 2018, specifically, begs the question of whether or not a different era of Greek life at Wes is about to begin. Current seniors are the last ones to have been on campus with both an all-male Psi U and a residential DKE. For many organizations, it’s a transitional time.
That’s where Adolescent Sexual Health Awareness (ASHA) comes in. ASHA, a student group led by Jade Ransohoff ’18 and Rebecca Goldfarb Terry ’19, educates youth on sexual health, consent, and communication. While ASHA’s primary focus is teaching its curriculum to high school students throughout Connecticut, the group recently started to conduct workshops on campus—working with sports teams to program houses, Greek organizations, and first-year dorms.
“A lot of people in high school don’t get comprehensive sexual education, especially that focuses on consent and communication,” explained Goldfarb Terry. “There’s no way that they would come to college and all the sudden have all this information.”
Ransohoff also offered her thoughts on incorporating workshops into the University community.
“How could we better other communities and not also our own?” she said.
ASHA stumbled upon this unlikely partnership with Greek life when Chi Psi approached them for help with a fundraiser. ASHA instead proposed tailoring their curriculum in an effort to urge the brotherhood to examine the culture of their organization, opening up avenues of conversation. Ransohoff, also a sister of the sorority Rho Epsilon (Rho Ep), has contacts within the IntraGreek Council (IGC). She’s reached out to every Greek organization about ASHA workshops and the responses have been universally positive.
Frats across the country often have a reputation for poor understanding or blatant disregard of the rules of consent. The question then becomes whether Greek enthusiasm for collaboration with ASHA is an effort toward meaningful structural change, a mere rebranding scheme, or some hybrid of the two.
While the curriculum starts off with a light-hearted what-am-I guessing game of sexual terms and phrases to warm everyone up, it ends on a more serious note. Discussions include boundary crossing in hookup culture, pledging in a co-ed frat, what it means to be part of a brotherhood, accountability, and resources.
“What does it mean to be in a brotherhood?” reads one of the scenarios posed to participants. “Is there an alliance formed when you become a brother? Does that mean that an alliance is formed in which sexual misconduct is acceptable? At what point do you break your allegiances?”
Andrew Martin ’21, a Chi Psi pledge who emphasized self-sacrifice and charity as central to the organization, reflected favorably on the workshop.
“It was a very informative meeting…overall very efficient and productive,” he said. “The workshop should be for everyone. I know all of us at Chi Psi learned a lot from it.”
Allegra Fils-Aime ’19, Rho Ep social justice chair, addressed how the event opened up conversation.
“We always had these discussions and didn’t really relate them to our own situations,” she said. “The ASHA talk was good because it actually makes you think about yourself and your own life.”
Besides bridging this gap between the abstract and the personal, the event also provided a supplement to some sisters’ minimal sex ed. Isabel Goldstein ’19, vice president of Rho Ep and a member of ASHA, spoke to the different levels of sex ed background on campus.
“I had horrible sex education…. I think it’s about bringing everyone up to the same level and not assuming people know things, ” she said.
Erica Yim ’19 and Ayanna Joseph ’19, both members of the Rho Ep events committee, echoed this sentiment, highlighting the Davidson resources they didn’t know about prior to this workshop.
While some Greek organizations are already fully immersed in the ASHA partnership, others are just getting started. ASHA will hold a workshop for the brothers of Alpha Psi Alpha on May 6. Will Maldonado ’19, president of Alpha Psi, talked about this collaboration as a way to secure their place on campus and also better themselves.
“We tend to tote ourselves as open to these kinds of conversations and workshops,” he said. “Anything to teach us more than we know, because we can only know so much as group of boys in a room.”
DKE will also have a workshop on May 6. PJ Ryan ’19, DKE president, framed the intention of the event as a continuation of the bystander interventions that all new members attend.
“We do try to speak on sexual assault and even just sexual activity in general on a frequent basis,” Ryan said. “I think what’s lacking is the ability to tailor it to a certain group of students…. As well as [bystander intervention] does…I think ASHA’s critical aspect for us…is that they’re going to tailor a presentation to us directly.”
Marty Rubin ’18, former DKE vice president, had different thoughts. Rubin was initiated into DKE in 2015, served as the IGC representative his sophomore year, and finally, vice president his junior year before finishing his term and leaving in Spring 2017. Rubin emphasized that DKE used initiatives of sexual assault prevention to construct an image.
“Getting involved in organizations or receiving certain trainings…were all image-boosters,” Rubin said. “They usually just sent the freshman or the guys who hadn’t paid their dues yet or people they could leverage to force to go…. Attendance was always low so conversations were never genuine…. Image is always a huge factor with a fraternity on such a politically-aware campus.”
Rubin noted that he felt it was ironic that he seems to have the most power in DKE now that he’s left.
“They finally started to ask me what to do and for advice on how to carry things out,” he said. “I don’t know how well they’ve done on it because I don’t ask afterwards but there are some people who…are trying to sway the vote towards becoming more of a progressive, more critical organization…I don’t know to what extent.”
Matt Huston ’20, a DKE brother spearheading the fraternity’s sexual assault prevention program, highlighted the “what does it mean to be a brother” scenario as one he expects to be especially important.
“If [a brother is] beginning to become the perpetrator of what could be a sexual assault, how do you handle that?” he asked. “How do you step in and be someone that could prevent that?”
Ryan offered his personal take on the meaning of brotherhood.
“You want to make sure you’re always looking out for each other,” he said. “And sometimes even if that person doesn’t see it, you have to be able to act and dilute the situation and make sure both parties are going to be dealt with correctly and that there’s no instance of sexual assault.”
Rubin shed a different light on the allegiance of brotherhood.
“If there’s any rumors going around, it’s all about damage control and it’s absolutely permissible because it’s a culture of silence,” he said. “They understand their legal status right now is iffy…. They know they’re skating on thin ice.”
With studies that show frat brothers are three times more likely to commit sexual assault, the toxicity of this culture of silence is something that a single workshop won’t solve. It seems that the brothers of DKE will have to go beyond reflecting on the meaning of brotherhood to align entirely with efforts that address sexual violence on campus.
If there’s one source of loose common ground between the accounts of Ryan and Rubin, it’s the importance of identity for a frat, especially via re-establishing a house. Ryan specifically pointed out misconceptions regarding the question of DKE’s willingness to co-educate.
“We were willing to comply,” Ryan said. “We had a larger, in-depth plan than Psi U on co-educating our house…. We were completely open to co-educating our house and we still want to.”
According to Ryan, if the DKE house is open for fall housing, it will be co-ed. Programs like ASHA and One in Four, which is a program that educates men on sexual assault, will be part of acknowledging the responsibility of having a designated space.
To Rubin, one thing is certain: The identity of DKE was and is tied to the house.
“When they left, they didn’t know how to identify themselves,” he said. “The house was all they could conceptualize about themselves…. The guys of my grade are trying to make sure they’re inculcating all of the younger kids into what that life was like to preserve it. That’s dangerous because it was not a good place, not even when I was in it…something to actively run away from.”
Michaela Malin ’20, a brother of Psi U and also a member of ASHA core, served as a liaison between the two organizations. She and other Psi U brothers in ASHA sat down with Goldfarb Terry and Ransohoff to customize the Greek life-ASHA curriculum. Those present noted that the Psi U turnout was high (35-40 brothers) and the discussion was engaged.
Even so, Goldfarb Terry and Ransohoff acknowledge the limitations of these workshops.
“Unfortunately when we have this space with people, it’s just an hour,” Ransohoff said. “We’re not drafting up a document for their organization…they are autonomous and they have to make those decisions as a collective…. We hope that what we do makes a different and starts a conversation.”
For Psi U, that’s what happened. ASHA suggested that Psi U create a committee of brothers to write sexual misconduct policies into their guidelines.
“We’ve actually recently drafted a code of conduct [for] how to handle cases of sexual misconduct and sexual assault within Psi U…how to deal with if you know your friend is a perpetrator or think your friend is a perpetrator or if one of your friends is a survivor,” Malin said. “All of those things aren’t topics that we have written in any of the old documents for the fraternity because those men who founded the fraternity just weren’t thinking along those lines.”
Malin spoke directly to the concern that initiatives are tools for generating a certain identity.
“These efforts are to destigmatize but they’re also to effect actual change,” she said. “We can’t say that sexual assault doesn’t exist anymore…. We have to really work towards it and then the stigmas will lift on their own…. In being a part of Greek life, we’re being the most active in changing it.”
Ultimately, from opening up doors for discussion to providing information on resources to jumpstarting policy change, ASHA workshops can only be beneficial when it comes to addressing sexual assault on campus. Even a single person leaving a workshop more informed renders it valuable. That said, completion isn’t enough to indicate that organizations are committed to real structural change. Raising awareness will be insufficient in combatting the culture of silence that Rubin addressed. The litmus test will be how exactly these collectives use their awareness as momentum for progress.
According to Rubin, DKE is currently a scattered constellation rather than a cohesive whole.
“When the house comes back it will be [cohesive], and it will come back in full force,” he explained. “So if you’re here for that, you will see, and if you’re not, then congratulations.”
Noa Street-Sachs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.