Nicole (which is not her real name) was a freshman, a virgin and a long way from her Midwestern home. She indulged in the staples of first-semester college life like alcohol, fraternity parties and boys. Although she had heard stories of sexual assault on campus, she never thought its reach would extend to her.
“Yeah, it happens,” she told me about her impression of sexual assault before being raped, “but it’s not going to happen to me.”
That impression would prove naive.
While walking along Fraternity Row one night during Fall of her freshman year, brothers from Kappa Alpha Order Fraternity, an Interfraternity Council at UF, invited Nicole and a friend inside to party. She had been there before and thought the men were nice.
After some time swing dancing, Nicole and one brother began making out. She made sure to set clear boundaries. “I am a virgin,” she remembers telling him. “I will not have sex with you.” He told her that was OK, that they didn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to do.
Without good reason to doubt his intentions, she continued as she had with several men before. They kissed. They undressed. He got forward. She protested physically and verbally, resisting his advances, reaching for her clothes, telling him she’d had enough. He ignored her.
“He basically forced my legs open and tried to force me to have sex with him,” she recalls. As she remembers it, he complained throughout the rape she wasn’t “letting” him have sex with her.
On a crisp, sunny afternoon outside Pascal’s Coffeehouse, Nicole recounts this part of the story through a pained, wry smile. His complaint is so ridiculously oblivious.
It’s also reflective of a larger cultural problem in fraternities.
In my interviews with fraternity men over the past few weeks, only one question garnered unanimous “yes” answers: “Do you feel that your fraternity encourages the objectification of women?”
Men from eight different fraternities told me with little hesitation that although their fraternities stress respect for women in person, nobody resists disrespecting them in private.
When asked about his fraternity’s treatment of women, one anonymous Theta Chi Fraternity brother told me, “Women are objectified pretty heavily when talking amongst the brothers.” He described to me the practice of gathering “Rush boobs,” in which brothers encourage girls to write “Rush (insert fraternity name here)” on their breasts and take pictures. They then distribute those pictures through fraternity-wide group chats. Members from two other fraternities, including Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity, confirmed the practice is not specific to Theta Chi.
One member of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity told me the pledging process in his fraternity encourages brothers to “get with as many girls as possible.” Such promiscuity, he said, wins pledges “brownie points” with older brothers.
This behavior should not be written off with a casual, “Boys will be boys.” It has tangible effects, teaching fraternity men to treat women as sexual chess pieces to be conquered rather than people to be engaged with. As multiple rape survivors and sorority women interviewed for this investigation have explained to me, many fraternity men feel “entitled” to sex, especially after a girl pays them attention, and we can trace this tendency to the small moments where a man is measured by how many breasts he’s seen or how many women he’s slept with.
The Nicoles of the world suffer the consequences of that entitlement when men interpret their acceptance of a drink or willingness to undress as confirmation of desire to have sex.
For this reason, senior fraternity men, who gain the de facto respect of younger brothers, need to be hypercritical about objectification of women in their chapters and vocal in that criticism. Tolerance will not do.
The university must adhere to the same commitment. Right now, fraternity punishment at UF takes the form of temporary pressure. During periods of intense scrutiny – normally after a public misstep — UF comes down hard on offending organizations.
Scrutiny eventually subsides, UF lets up, and the organizations return to their original behavior. We can see this in fraternity hazing data provided by UF’s Student Conduct & Conflict Resolution office. Since 2000, popular fraternities like Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, Theta Chi, Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity and Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity have been punished twice or three times over.
If we’re unwilling to permanently punish these organizations for repeated violations, why should they craft permanent solutions?
Champe Barton is a UF economics and psychology senior. His column appears on Fridays.