“It isn’t uncommon for fraternities to get into trouble for hazing or alcohol policy violations, but a University of Vermont fraternity is in hot water simply for circulating a survey to its members. The brothers just wanted to get to know each other a little better by asking for some basic info from one another, like “name,” “major,” “favorite memories,” and “If I could rape someone, who would it be?” Oh, yikes…
WCAX reports that yesterday UVM put Sigma Phi Epsilon on suspension after it became the latest fraternity to engage in some rape-promoting banter. Though the full questionnaire hasn’t been released, according to student blogs, the last question got out when a new member sent the document to a teaching assistant instead of his homework (note to self: when saving files, make sure to give them clear names like, “NON-INCRIMINATING MATH HW.doc” and “DISTURBING EVIDENCE OF MY LADY-HATING WAYS.doc”). The frat was already on probation for alcohol violations, and after a student sent out a tip, SigEp was told to cease all activities by both UVM and the national fraternity.
The roughly 45 members are allowed to continue living in the house for the time being, but more disciplinary action could be coming. UVM officials are investigating and say they’ve asked campus police to determine if criminal charges need to be filed. According to The Burlington Free Press, the frat will also be getting a visit from a representative of the national organization, which issued this statement:
“The Fraternity has instructed the chapter to cease all operations, pending further investigation. Sigma Phi Epsilon and its leadership programs are built on the concept of respect for both self and others. Any behavior that demeans women is not tolerated by the Fraternity. National Fraternity representatives, volunteers and university officials are investigating this situation and will take appropriate action to uphold the Fraternity’s values.”
Several feminist organizations are pushing to have the fraternity shut down entirely. Sigma Phi Epsilon should know the drill, since UVM’s chapter was shut down from 1993-1997 for hazing, which included making pledges tell racist jokes and describe what they’d do with a stripper whose company they enjoyed the night before. An online petition started by Feminists at UVM, which has already far exceeded its 1,000 signature goal, states:
This egregious expression of rape culture is only the most recent example
of systemic sexism at UVM. The past year alone has witnessed rape, multiple sexual assaults, and anti-abortion chalking in public spaces. While the university administration has laid off long-time Women’s and Gender Studies faculty and supported sexist institutions like Sigma Phi Epsilon, it has refused to take concerted action to combat sexism and rape culture. We demand that instead of diverting resources into vast salaries for its administrators, UVM should launch an aggressive campaign against sexism and rape culture, and it should expand institutions such as Women’s and Gender Studies and the Women’s Center at UVM.
For its report, WCAX either managed to find the three most enlightened and well-spoken students at UVM, or many people on campus really are deeply offended by the survey and through with tolerating misogynistic behavior. Though it seems the question was just a joke (we don’t really want to consider the possibility that the frat was taking orders for sexual assault victims) the fact that someone thought it was cute or funny is indicative of a bigger problem. Sadly, this is minor compared to the frat horror stories we’ve heard. However, disbanding Sigma Phi Epsilon would send a message that the days when reports of a frat promoting sexual assault would end with an administrator chuckling “boys will be boys,” are over.”
Written originally for Jezebel by Margaret Hartmann