Sisterhood Isn’t Three Letters Deep

The evergreen machine of assault and social toxicity, otherwise known as the North-American Interfraternity Conference, struck again. This time, the UC San Diego chapter of Sigma Chi is under investigation for allegations of sexual violence against members of several sororities. Despite the gravity of the accusations at hand, a culture of silence perpetuated by Greek life has kept the whole situation under wraps. From the national organizations down to the individuals on this campus, the moratorium on speaking out against sexual violence within these organizations harms not only the sorority sisters but also the rest of the campus community. By creating open secrets that exclude unaffiliated women, they are increasing the possibility that unaffiliates will find themselves in dangerous situations when attending open parties or even in unaffiliated life. Although the responsibility here is two-fold, fraternities have proven themselves unable to successfully prevent heinous behaviors from their members, so to say that they should step up in protecting the women of the campus seems closer to wishful thinking. Sororities need to reconsider their approach to fraternity-perpetrated abuse and act in the spirit of true sisterhood, regardless of the affiliated status of the people involved.

Far from speaking out against these problems in the public forum, sororities asked their members to avoid engaging with news outlets. The impression left on many Greek life members was that they just “aren’t supposed to” give out information about the incident with Sigma Chi, and the narrative that echoed across chapters on this campus was that to speak out about this issue would be telling the survivors story for them. When the news article regarding this incident got leaked, the President of the sorority one of our anonymous sources belongs to went as far as to demand that this person reveal themselves to her, citing the matter as “urgent.” To order that anonymous sources reveal themselves under the guise of urgency goes beyond just asking their members to refrain from speaking to the press and it demonstrates a deeper problem with these organizations. Although the post has since been deleted, the message was clear: speaking out about these issues is not okay in the eyes of the chapter.

Placing the burden of speaking out on survivors, and to absolve bystanders of any responsibility, only helps to reinforce the secrecy and the stigma surrounding abuse on campus. Whether or not the survivors wish to share their story, creating a public conversation regarding the problems inherent to fraternities, and to Greek life as a whole, is imperative to change the culture. Instead, this incident furthers the notion that speaking out about sexual harassment is in some way a betrayal. Societies that claim to be champions for sisterhood placing the wishes of a national entity over the security of the women of this campus is hypocritical to say the least, and it is even worse to frame it as a betrayal. The national organizations would love to sweep incidents like these under the rug because their membership numbers are contingent on women feeling safe in their organizations. By following their policies and continuing the circle of silence, the UC San Diego chapters inadvertently are catering to the interests of these groups over the safety of the women they live and work with everyday.

The national organizations run with policies that prevent their members from publicly holding the accused accountable. The chapters’ advisors, who offer counsel that trends towards containment, perpetuate the blanket of silence that already exists regarding sexual assault. Members themselves, however, are also to blame as they follow these guidelines and refuse to speak out and engage with this publicly, instead of trusting the executive board to deal with it privately. This is not a private conversation but a matter of public safety, and by trusting a system that has consistently failed its members in matters of harassment and sexual violence, these sisters are doing a disservice to the missions of their organizations. With this, I am not placing the blame on the survivors. Survivors of sexual assault have a right to their stories and to speak when they want to, if they want to, on their terms and in their time. That being said, the situation was being kept quiet, and in doing so all of the other members of the organization become complicit in protecting the alleged perpetrators of sexual violence crimes and in rape culture as a whole. Despite the fact that these chapters are imposing laws and playing a narrative that paints silence as the moral high road, members should evaluate the impact their silence plays into the larger campus and into the safety of their fellow sisters. It is understandable to think that one is doing the right thing when everyone in the organization reinforces that this is for the survivors. But the incident is also about the men of this fraternity allegedly committing a crime. In this manner, keeping quiet becomes less about speaking on someone else’s experience and more about trying to put a lid on the conversation of sexual assault in Greek life.

By remaining in silence, by demanding silence, not only do these chapters protect the perpetrators but they place the burden on survivors to speak out against these problems. Rape culture is systemic and societal, even more so in Greek life which is notorious for their patriarchal social dynamics. Silence is not just preventing the dismantling of rape culture, it also allows rapists to continue harming women because they suffer no consequences in the public eye. The reality is that by not exposing these criminals for what they are, there is no real deterrent to prevent them or others to continue inflicting harm. In a criminal justice system that leans in favor of rapists every day and as UC San Diego consistently brushes incidents of sexual violence aside for the sake of the school’s image, the court of public opinion is one of the strongest defenses we have. This incident is not isolated, the survivors are not alone and the silence these chapters are demanding and these women are complying with creates a false sense of the magnitude of the problems. There is no doubt that a survivor’s story is their own, but this story is one in an ocean of assaults against the peace of mind and bodily autonomy of women across college campuses. By not discussing the larger situation, we force survivors to stand at the forefront of the fight against rape culture and sexual harassment. This conversation involves the entire Greek-life community, whether or not they want to acknowledge it.

Sorority silence or neutrality in the face of sexual assault, whether imposed or chosen, is a phenomenon that crops up every time a case of fraternity-perpetrated sexual violence occurs on a college campus. Thanks to national policies that care more about reputation than their own members there is a very troubling trend across these institutions of open secrets and of which fraternities are “the bad ones.” Unfortunately, in this case “respecting survivor stories” is actually closer to expecting them to do the heavy-lifting in a conversation that is actually about a larger societal problem. It is time for Greek-life organizations to step-up and actively work against sexual violence instead of trying to cache problems for the sake of saving face. They owe that much to their members, to the survivors, and to every woman on this campus.

10 thoughts on “Sisterhood Isn’t Three Letters Deep

  1. It is so interesting to see the people who are called out for protecting the status quo, being upset at being called out. Certainly victims should have the right to remain anonymous but if there is sexual assault — EVEN ALLEGATIONS OF ASSAULT — on campus, then this is news. People and especially all women deserve to know. Keeping everything secret has not helped in the past and it will not help now. Frankly, I think the whole greek system is BS but if you want to be part of it, you should be fully aware of what is happening and you should be aware of repeated allegations of certain houses or groups — even if those allegations never go to court!! We should know what we should be staying away from, if we don’t want to engage with predators and predatory behavior. I say, keep these stories coming.

  2. Hello Adriana and UCSD community,

    My name is Lea Wolf, and I’m the co-founder of http://www.letsspeakup.org
    I much agree with your article of institutional betrayal, “protecting” offenders and silencing victims. It’s indeed systemic and we need a cultural change.

    I have written extensive research of how cover ups practices normalized sexual violence.
    K-12 has similar issues of cover ups and worse. Cover up practices has plagued our communities with increase rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicide…deterioration in the emotional well being of our society.

    We are building alliance across the county and the state to shift this paradigm.

    There are many tools to fight for student rights.
    If you are interested in collaborating with us please reach out to me [email protected]

    We need your voices to be heard with courage to empower others.

    Keep writing and speaking out,
    Lea

  3. Agree completely with “A PHC Sistet.” This article is an abomination. What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty. Prove the validity of a claim and extend a just punishment. Don’t crucify an entire PHC or IFC organization for the behavior of select individuals, especially before any proof has been presented or evidence publicly shared. The author should be ashamed.

  4. I am extremely disappointed to see Adrianna Barrios’s article “Sisterhood Isn’t Three Letters Deep”.

    This article’s inflammatory nature does not serve the survivors, the investigation, nor justice to any of the criminals who are involved in these sexual assaults. Instead, Barrios’s article serves no other purpose than to create a mob mentality towards Greek Life’s sororities and sisterhood as she claims these women’s stories of sexual assaults without evidenced support from the victims.

    As a woman, as a student at UCSD, and as a member of Greek Life, I am infuriated, upset, and extremely saddened by the accusations of sexual assault from these women whom I have chosen to call my Panhellenic sisters. And upon the recent learning of this news from my chapter’s executive board, I too wanted to take up arms and shame these men not only in the court of public opinion, but force them to meet their justice in a court of law. But as it stands, I am not a lawyer, I am not UCSD’s administration, and I am certainly not a victim of this sexual assault. I understand the outrage and pain when learning that these heinous acts are happening in our own college campus’s community where safety should not be an expectation, but a given, but this is not my investigation to take under and this is certainly my story to share.

    The members of Greek life were not given the entirety of the information known and unknown about this on-going investigation. But that is because this is an on-going investigation. Not all the facts are known, and most likely, not all victims have yet to come out with their story to anybody, let alone the authorities nor their respective Greek life chapters. The true investigation has just started, and for us to publicize what little information we know could obstruct any true justice these victims might get to serve to the men who assaulted them.

    Additionally, the extreme publicization and polarization of this matter, as we take up the mentality “Us vs. Sigma Chi” and “Us vs. The Women in Greek Life”, can, and most likely will, aggravate problems that go far beyond the short-lived fame of this article. As we force this investigation pre-maturely into the public, without investigated facts nor gathered evidence, it only gives the organization the ability to shut down accusations and victims on the pretense of slander. If we as a community force this matter out into the open before investigators have the opportunity to create a case, the stories of these victims will be lost as this issue inflames into nothing more than outrage in the media, rather than justice in the courts. Although accusation, humiliation, and public shame may be satisfying for the public as a whole, myself included, it will not give the victims the justice they deserve which can only be done through the following of the proper legal and administrative channels of the city of San Diego, and of UCSD.

    Secondly, this “Us vs The Women in Greek Life” mentality that Barrios insights in her article is not only sanctimonious in her promotion, but frightful to the women who she may be silencing. The women in these chapters, and the executive board included do not know all the truths of this investigation because as said before, it is on-going. Publicizing what little information we all know will only show our sisters who were brave enough to come out that their chapter is not a safe place. Instead, it shows victims that whatever information is told in confidence to a sister has every opportunity to be leaked to the public. Forcing these chapters to make their sisters’ assault a matter of public scrutiny only turns the victims into something the public may gawk at as their private trauma becomes the public’s next news story to consume. This not only forces the victims to publicly bear the weight of their trauma if they should speak out against those who assaulted them, but scare any and all women who have come out or may come out with a story in the near future.

    The executive boards of the Panhellenic community are correct. This is not everyone’s story to be shared. These women who were victims of sexual assault may have given the women of Greek life the privilege to hear their stories, but it is not the women of Greek Life’s nor Adrianna Barrios’s privilege to further give these stories with the public.

    Although we would all like to see these men ousted and held accountable for their actions, legal justice takes time.

    To say the least, I am disappointed with Barrios’s article. I understand her outrage towards sexual assault, and concern for women who are unaffiliated with Greek Life, because it is outrage and concern we ALL share. However, her publicizing a matter that is still being investigated, and creating an inflammatory article without corroborated evidence nor direct and cited testimony and consent from victims is very close-minded of Barrios. It would be devastating to see this prolonged or lost because of the publicization of a matter that has yet to be fully investigated, which is why women in Greek life, including myself, have decided to allow the police, UCSD, and our larger organizations to take hold of this matter.

    We all want these women to get the justice they deserve. Let us allow that to happen.

    1. Thank you for saying everything right. It’s shameful that in a situation where women are trying to stand up and protect each other from further trauma and possible damage to legal investigations they are still being shame for being “complicit” and supporters of rape culture.

    2. As another fellow PHC sister, I completely agree with this. Barrios’s article is simply insufficiently supported with evidence; if you don’t know what you’re talking about, then don’t talk about it. Next time, make sure you know what you’re writing about before publishing and spreading fake news.

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