SDSU Students Fight Fraternity Rape Culture

by on December 11, 2014 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Education, History, Organizing, San Diego, Women's Rights

SDSUBy Doug Porter

Students at San Diego State University participated in a march and sit-in on Tuesday, demanding the school take action in response to sexual assaults and harassment. The protest was triggered by reports of people associated with fraternity houses yelling obscenities, waving dildos and throwing eggs at a Nov. 21st anti-rape march called Take Back the Night.

Their demands included an open forum with SDSU President Elliot Hirshman during the spring semester, along with the resignations of fraternity members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon and Delta Sigma Phi from various posts on the campus. The protesters cited the need for a planned Women’s Resource Center to serve as a rape crisis center and for CSU and UC colleges to release all statistical data on the investigation, adjudication and sanction of cases involving sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking.

As is the case with police-linked killings around the country, the protests are the local manifestation of a much larger problem, and today I’ll try to give this story some context.

Shortly after the protest occurred, campus police announced the arrest of an SDSU student, charging him in the most recent incident of sexual assault. There have been 17 campus-related sexual assaults have been reported at SDSU in 2014, with 13 reported since the start of the fall semester.

Via Ello

Take Back the Night March, Via Ello

From KPBS:

Some student activists expressed frustration with the university’s response to what happened at the Take Back the Night March, including student Marina Butler.

“I was terrified that night and SDSU did nothing,” said Butler. “The SDSU police weren’t there. The administration wasn’t there. Nobody’s asked me what’s happened and nobody’s reached out to us.”

Randall Timm, SDSU’s director of Life and Leadership, is leading the investigation into what happened at the anti-rape march. He said he’s still conducting interviews and getting new information about what occurred. He will compile a report and make recommendations. Timm said the process was slightly delayed by the Thanksgiving break. The fraternity chapters could face penalties, as could individual members of the fraternities.

The actual demands issued by the SDSU students are lengthy, backed with context. They make more sense when you read with that context. Here are a few excerpts:

  1. SDSU President Elliot Hirshman must answer community concerns about sexism and sexual violence at an open forum at the beginning of the Spring 2015 semester.

…President Hirshman’s response thus far has been hands­off and out ­of ­touch. He has made no attempt himself or through an intermediary, as far as we know, to meet with or speak to the survivor ­activists who were harassed and intimidated at the Take Back The Night march on 11/21. His only public statement on the matter was a congratulation of the fraternity system of which he and his son are themselves a part…

  1. The Sigma Phi Epsilon house

    The Sigma Phi Epsilon house

    AS President Jonathan Cole and all other members of DELTA SIGMA PHI and SIGMA PHI EPSILON must step down from AS (student government) positions. Marc Hess should step down as IFC (Inter-Fraternity Council) President. All members of AS should participate in education about sexism and sexual violence.

In a previous letter, Concerned Students demanded that fraternities be closed until they can be made safe. This cannot be achieved by only suspending social activities for the remainder of the semester when fraternity activities are already winding down. This process needs to continue and must involve external accountability for fraternities. The two fraternities involved in the sexual harassment of the Take Back The Night marchers, DELTA SIGMA PHI and SIGMA PHI EPSILON, must undergo a rigorous re­accreditation process if they are to be welcomed back.

Studies show that fraternity members are three times more likely to commit rape, and that fraternity membership has a negative impact on male behavior. 10 News quoted SDSU PD saying that of the 14 sexual assaults reported at SDSU this year, 5 occurred at a fraternity house….

Associated Students President Jonathan Cole

SIGMA PHI EPSILON members sexually harassed and intimidated survivor­activists at theTake Back the Night march on 11/21 and have in fact continued to do so online. Jonathan Cole is a member of the SIGMA PHI EPSILON fraternity and is also the President of Associated Students. It is unacceptable that a member of this fraternity, which has harassed and intimidated students and is under investigation, has a position in which he is supposed to represent the student body….

Interfraternity Council President Marc Hess

MaDSP_logorc Hess is the president of the Interfraternity Council and as such, has a responsibility not only to fraternity members, but to the same survivor­/activists that were harassed and intimidated by multiple fraternities during the Take Back The Night march. Hess has made no attempt himself or through an intermediary, as far as we know, to meet with or speak to the marchers to talk about his plans to remedy the situation….

Associated Students

We believe that members of the two fraternities that harassed Take Back The Night marchers, DELTA SIGMA PHI and SIGMA PHI EPSILON, should suspend their role in Associated Students until the situation is resolved. Members of AS should understand how sexism and historical inequalities have created a culture that stigmatizes sexual assault survivors….

  1. SDSU Police must stop victim­-blaming messaging and racial profiling.

sdsu policeThe SDSU Police Department must stop perpetuating victim­blaming messages and racial profiling. SDSU PD statements, notably those of Capt. Joshua Mays, perpetuate damaging myths about sexual assault: that sexual assault is somehow caused by alcohol or a lack of parental supervision. Alcohol and parties do not cause rape? rapists do…

Additionally, SDSU PD must stop describing suspects in its crime alerts solely by race…

…Apparently, SDSU PD is incapable of arresting anyone for this year’s 14 rapes, but is eager to racially profile and harass Black men on campus. We question SDSU PD’s impact on campus safety, and find its flaws to be part of a pattern endemic to policing…

  1. SDSU must heed Dr. Huma Ghosh’s recommendations for the Women’s Resource Center and Director and give continuous and ongoing support to programs underway.

Women’s Resource Center/Director

We request a progress report on the development of the alleged Women’s Center that is to be opened sometime next year….

Student ­initiated programs and Sexual Violence Task Force

SDSU must fully support the “Take Back the Night Week.” Students from WOA requested that this receive funding at the beginning of the semester through Student Success Fee Proposals and it was denied. We would like to point out that the College of Engineering received $121,096 in funding this semester and the College of Arts and Letters (to which Women’s Studies belongs) only received $5,000….

  1. SDSU must institute Gender/Sexuality Studies class as a part of the General Education graduation requirements.

We recognize that educating and suspending fraternity social activities will not end the culture of normalized sexual assault on this campus. We demand that SDSU institute

Gender/Sexuality Studies classes as a part of the General Education graduation requirements. CSULA has now instituted an Ethnic Studies requirement for students and we commend them for this step towards a well­rounded and equality­oriented college education…

Meanwhile in Washington DC…

The issue of sexual assaults on college campuses around the country was being talked about on Capitol Hill yesterday.

stop rapingFrom Inside Higher Ed:

Colleges’ mishandling of sexual assault may continue to occupy the national spotlight, but the criminal justice system has done a worse job supporting and addressing the needs of victims, Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said during a U.S. Senate hearing here Tuesday.

The hearing, held by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, focused on finding ways to inspire campus sexual assault survivors to have more confidence in law enforcement so that they don’t, as McCaskill said, “take the default position that they’d be better off just pursuing the Title IX option.”

Panelists and senators stressed that such a decision should remain up to the victim, but said that too often survivors – either through discouragement from their college or their own disillusionment with law enforcement – think of Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law that requires colleges to investigate campus sexual assaults, as their only option for finding justice.

The hearing, and indeed all discussion about this issue lately, took place under the cloud of uncertainty generated by a failed esposé about campus rapes at UVA published in Rolling Stone.

rolling stone rapeFrom the Associated Press:

…Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she feared that “bad journalism” in Rolling Stone magazine about an alleged gang rape would be a “setback” for victims and efforts to help them.

The magazine’s high-profile article described a gang rape alleged to have occurred in a fraternity house at the University of Virginia. The magazine acknowledged mistakes in its reporting, but it had already prompted a national discussion on how universities handle sexual assaults.

Testifying before a Senate subcommittee reviewing a campus sexual assault bill she co-sponsors, McCaskill said Tuesday that she worries victims will be less likely to come forward.

Ninety colleges in the US are under investigation for their practices in this area, according to the Department of Education, so “bad journalism” or not, the issue is for real.

From a another Inside Higher Ed article :

Indeed, however discredited the Rolling Stone article may be, this year has seen devastating portraits of fraternity culture that involve dangerously excessive drinking, deadly hazing, reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment — and efforts to cover up all of the above. Consider this series from Bloomberg or this article from The Atlantic.

Alan Berkowitz, who consults with colleges about how to prevent sexual assault, said via email that sexual assault is a “common” problem on college and university campuses, regardless of the Rolling Stone article. “The appropriate response is therefore to use the situation as a spur to action to create safety for victims to come forward and for colleges and universities to offer a fair and responsive process, which the University of Virginia has been accused of not having,” he said. “The lesson for higher education therefore remains the same: solve the problem and do not get distracted by controversy about the truth or falsity of a news report.”


This is an excerpt from Doug Porter’s column at San Diego Free Press, our online media partner.


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