With the start of the spring semester, the fraternity recruitment process is underway. For members of sororities, this event comes with a change from previous years, as they are not allowed to attend or participate in fraternity recruitment events. While this rule has been in effect since 2011, this is the first year that the National Panhellenic Conference, or NPC — the umbrella organization that governs the University’s fifteen sororities — has enforced the rule at the University. This enforcement certainly seems a well-intentioned attempt to protect members during what some see as a high-risk period. Still, I am skeptical as to whether this enforcement, as well as the rule itself, is an effective means of protecting sorority members and ensuring a safe community.
According to former Inter-Sorority Council President Allison Palacios, this change came after the release of Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus” article made it evident to national and international NPC presidents that its member groups were not acting in accordance with the policy. Of course, it only makes sense to zero in on a group subject to a policy if it is not acting as such. However, regardless of the current status of the Rolling Stone article, rape occurs everywhere and is not unique to the University. Unless the NPC made an effort to address this issue at other schools, following up with those with which they’ve already spoken and reminding others of this policy, I have to wonder if this enforcement reflects a true attempt to protect all sorority women under it. Or is it simply a band-aid solution meant to show that something is being done to address this issue, especially given the publicity the article received?
Perhaps the biggest issue I take with this policy is that it stigmatizes women on Grounds by restricting those it aims to protect. Telling members not to participate in events it perceives as high-risk seems to be saying that it is the responsibility of those with the potential to be endangered to keep themselves out of harm’s way. As a result, the policy embodies the victim-blaming phenomenon that too often occurs when addressing sexual assault. As a former sorority member from the University remarked last year after the NPC began enforcement of its policy, “With the issue of rape and sexual assault on Grounds, women continue to be punished twice.”
Furthermore, many other events throughout the year, such as the Foxfield Races or Halloween, could also be seen as high-risk. Sexual assault can occur at any time. Even during fraternity recruitment, a sorority member could be assaulted while out, whether at bars or at a separate party. Focusing on fraternity recruitment and ignoring other times at which members face harm fails to promote true responsibility. It presents the policy as a way of avoiding a true commitment to tackling the problem of sexual assault on campuses.
This view is not only unfair to women by expecting the best behavior from them; it is also unfair to men by assuming the worst in them. I can’t help but wonder how frustrating it may be to support and implement Fraternal Organization Agreement standards only to be regarded as irresponsible. Moreover, by essentially placing the responsibility for its members’ safety on the NPC and ISC, and by presuming that we lack the ability to respect one another, this policy runs the risk of further solidifying any harmful behavior that may occur (as it could on any night) as acceptable, in terms of how those engaging in such behavior view it. While incidents that have occurred do show a lack of respect on the part of those causing them, such a view would simply perpetuate that behavior.
Additionally, sorority members have access to a network that provides safety resources, such as sober sisters, and many sisters I’ve spoken with have referred to this time of year as when they feel safest when going out. While both girls who are and are not in sororities could have before been invited to those events, this policy takes out a chunk of girls and leaves only those who are not sorority members, and therefore lack those resources, free to go.
I realize there is always an extent to which such a policy could protect members. However, placing the burden of staying safe on sorority women by mandating them not to attend an event presenting a potential to be harmed hardly seems to be an effective way for the NPC to ensure its members’ safety.
Alyssa Imam is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.