Ohleyer: That One Night We Tried

Sexual violence is rampant at Dartmouth while Greek life remains idle.

by Venice Ohleyer | 5/15/18 2:10am

 On Apr. 6, Dartmouth students “Took Back the Night.” Social spaces were asked to close in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence. All of them said they did. (While walking home I witnessed a group of guys run loudly into a fraternity shouting, “We’re gonna be late for our pong tourney!” I will let you speculate which fraternity it was.) While many community members took hosting events such as movie screenings, discussions and a march seriously, most saw Apr. 6 as a forced “dry night.” What do we have to show for it a month later?

In the Dartmouth 2017 Sexual Misconduct Survey, 34 percent of undergraduate women reported experiencing “Nonconsensual Penetration or Sexual Touching Involving Physical Force or Incapacitation” since coming to Dartmouth. That is significantly higher than the national college average (23 percent). Sexual assault at Dartmouth is not a problem, it is a crisis. “Take Back The Night” was the tip of the iceberg that should be Dartmouth’s response to sexual assault. However, instead of creating sustained change, participation (genuine or not) gave people a pass for the rest of the year. Dartmouth students and administration need to take drastic measures if they are to continue addressing the College’s sexual violence issue.

In order to understand the problem at hand, students must admit that the Greek system completely dominates social life here. Dartmouth’s culture of sexual behavior is widely influenced by Greek culture and this is crucial. Sixty-eight percent of eligible students partake in Greek life, and a significant portion of romantic or sexual behavior starts in, happens in, or is influenced by the Greek system, regardless of affiliation.

Greek houses set the tone for student safety. Houses must take responsibility for that power. Yes, they are beholden to regulation, but at the end of the day, what happens in Greek spaces is impossible to control externally; the efforts must be internal, and sustained.

To Dartmouth’s affiliated students, what have you all done since Apr. 6? If the answer is nothing, I have some ideas. All Greek spaces need a position in their board for dealing with issues of sexual violence. Most importantly, Greek spaces must adopt zero-tolerance policies into their constitutions, and follow them. This means blacklisting any member who has been accused of sexual violence and prohibiting them from being around others and alcohol.

For those who think that Greek spaces already operate this way, consider this situation: If someone files a report against a member but doesn’t press charges, or similarly, if someone reports someone to the members of the house, but doesn’t file an official report with the school would member still be kicked out? Sexual assault is not always transcribable.

Obviously, not all sexual violence is committed by members of Greek organizations. However, gender inequality and class privilege in Greek systems have been shown to perpetuate rape culture. In a study of fraternity brothers conducted in 2007, those who did not partake in a rape prevention program were more likely to commit a sexually coercive act than those who took part in the program. When discussing sexual violence, it is imperative to acknowledge that without counteraction, fraternities can contribute to toxic behavior. At a school like Dartmouth, where there are 27 Greek chapters, 14 of which are fraternities, the connection between high rates of sexual assault and Greek culture is not far-fetched. Even if only a third of all fraternities perpetuated such behavior — even only a fourth — that would have serious implications.

The institution of Dartmouth is not innocent either. The Greek system becomes particularly toxic when it is overwhelmingly dominant, and when it is the only option. That is how it is at Dartmouth. Not rushing is perceived as “resistance.” People who actively dislike Greek life or have no interest in joining feel forced to participate. When a fraternity brother is accused of sexual assault, there is a hesitancy to kick him out because it may “ruin his life”.

That said, I have numerous friends in Greek life who are wonderful people, care deeply about these issues, and are doing their best to tackle them. There were great efforts made on April 6, but they were not made by all of Dartmouth, nor are they enough. Sexual perpetrators were most likely not the ones attending screenings of “The Hunting Ground.” The fraternities known as “the most rape-y” were probably not brainstorming how they can best address sexual violence. Only around 140 people participated in the Take Back The Night march — 3 percent of the undergraduate population, up from last year’s .2 percent.

I have been on campus for 27 weeks, and sexual violence at Dartmouth is overwhelming. I have seen friends compromise in more ways than one because of Dartmouth’s culture. I have friends tell me they have no interest in rushing, but know they “have to.” I have had multiple friends tell me they were assaulted. The 34 percent statistic is not surprising to me, but the response is. If a statistic of that magnitude won’t incite change, what will?

This is the state of Dartmouth. If there is not going to be drastic change — and the change this campus needs is drastic — then let us not kid ourselves. Stop telling prospective students that Greek life is not completely dominant. Stop telling prospective students that not rushing is easy. Most importantly, tell prospective female students that one in three of them will be assaulted in their four years here. Tell them that they are nearly half as likely to be assaulted anywhere else. Don’t tell them Dartmouth is actively combating sexual violence: It is not.

Ohleyer is a member of the Class of 2021.

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