About two weeks ago, the National Panhellenic Conference, the leaders of university sororities across the country, sent a letter to University of Virginia sororities telling the women that they would not be allowed to attend the fraternity parties on the following Saturday night. That Saturday was Boys’ Bid Night, when the fraternities’ parties would welcome their new members in an apparently rowdier-than-usual atmosphere.
UVA was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 and often prides itself on tradition, but with this new strategy it might as well be turning back the clock even farther back. The message that the NPC is sending out echoes the mindset nineteenth-century women had to deal with. You can’t make yourself look pretty, or you’ll get raped. Then your life will be worth nothing. You can’t go out on Saturday night, or you’ll get raped. And you—not the frats—will be held to disciplinary action by the university for being at those parties, because boys are boys…so can you really blame anyone but yourself?
Imagine for a moment that the Bates administration sent out a letter to the entire campus saying, “Sorry girls, you can’t go out to Frye Street, or the Village, or JB, or any off-campus houses on Saturday night, because there will be boys there.”
True, Bates doesn’t have fraternities and sororities, and yes, these organizations are often unfortunately sites of sexual assault. But obviously sexual assault exists here. If the administration split the student body the way UVA essentially did into men and women and gave them different degrees of privilege, not only would it be anti-Bates-philosophy, but I’m pretty sure it would ignite a stronger reaction than the one we had to the cancellation of Trick-or-Drink.
Speaking of that infamous October event, the Washington Post article about the UVA issue said, “Many students were sympathetic to the goals of the national sorority leaders and understood the difficulty of keeping women safe, particularly when they’re not sober. They just didn’t like the method.”
Sound familiar? This rhetoric—minus the specific implications for women—could easily define many Bates students’ reactions to the cancellation of Trick-or-Drink: Yeah, we get that the goal was to stop the issues that arise from our drinking culture for a night, but the way it was cancelled, some say, wasn’t so great.
As college students, we need to acknowledge how our drinking culture affects us as a community and the outside community. Nearly all sexual assault cases occur because the aggressor and/or the victim is drunk, so college administrations are naturally going to focus on curbing alcohol consumption. But college administrators also need to be conscious of how they are attempting to accomplish this, because without enough consideration, they can end up sounding patriarchal and archaic at UVA, as well as ignorant of their own implications.
Many conversations about sexual assault revolve around the statistic saying that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. But not only is it ignorant to assume that fraternity boys are the only committers of sexual assault, it is also ignorant to assume that all women are victims—and that the only female victims are sorority girls—simply because they go to a party. Because they’re wearing short skirts or tight tops, because they’ve put on make-up, because they might be flirtier than usual after a couple of drinks…this is the activity that UVA was trying to stop on a Saturday night, rather than trying to stop the actual boys—or whoever they think commits rape—from drinking too much, from getting too aggressive, from taking a girl to a room where no one can hear her scream.
What about the UVA girls who aren’t in sororities? If the NPC and UVA are concerned about rape at frat parties, they should be concerned about any parties with men and women in the same room. But they’re ignoring those gatherings, because incidents at frats and sororities are the newsworthy ones that could be published in Rolling Stone. So non-sorority girls, you can relax. You don’t need attention or protection at the moment. Go to male-occupied parties and drink, and you’ll be in a safer situation than sorority girls doing the same thing.
The letter and its message might not have been purposefully trying to “victim-blame,” but it certainly comes off that way. It is time for colleges and our society to realize that perhaps the way to deal with sexual assault is not to tell women to be afraid of men, and not to focus the premature blame on the presumed victims before anything happens. They may be attempts to increase the prevention of sexual assault rather than just post-incident support, but we need to make the preventive measures more about changing the “boys will be boys” culture we live in rather than restricting what should be—in this century—women’s and students’ rights.