Stevie Early, a sophomore, remembers feeling difficult about joining Greek social life as early as her senior year of high school.
After Early committed to American University, her friends asked her if she would consider starting a sorority. Unsure, Early researched Greek life and discovered what she calls a history of elitism and pandering when it came to sexual assault that turned her away from the idea.
“I felt like it didn’t really foster the community that I think the University should have had,” Early said.
She said she would rather help create an inclusive environment for everyone, rather than join a selective organization. Last summer, many students have called for the abolition of Greek life in response to the handling of sexual misconduct allegations.
Students involved in Greek life experienced higher rates of sexual assault than those who were not, study finds. 2018 study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. More than one in 10 Greek life participants, or 13.5 percent, have been assaulted on campus, with those involved in Greek life “more likely to report experiencing” assault.
At AU, sororities such as Alpha Chi Omega have implemented reform methods to address issues of aggression. Some students question whether these reforms are effective in eliminating risk.
“Sexual assault prevention is really important,” Early said. “However, I often find these attempts to be very superficial. They are generally considered a reaction and not a prevention.
In April, AU’s Alpha Chi Omega chapter hosted a panel focused on sexual assault prevention and awareness. Madison McCabe, the sorority’s vice president of philanthropy, said she was pleased with the turnout of the four-person panel, with 135 students in attendance.
“What I really hope people take away is the inspiration to continue to make our university community a better and safer place,” McCabe said.
Some students, like first-year Parthav Easwar, doubt that Greek organizations are capable of solving problems like assault and instead see it as a broader problem within the university’s domain.
“There’s not a lot of accountability,” Easwar said. “I feel like the things the AU can do are pretty limited.”
Addressing sexual assault, particularly on college campuses, is a multi-pronged issue, said Michelle Dagne, coordinator of victim advocacy services at the AU Center for Health Promotion and Advocacy.
Dagne, whose primary responsibility is supporting female students who are victims of assault, said that among institutional changes, the conversation about rape culture must change to include the topic of power dynamics. On college campuses, there are power dynamics socially and academically that are often exacerbated by Greek life. She says this plays a role in the culture of sexual assault.
Dagne also discussed the importance of responsibility and taking responsibility, especially among men in fraternities.
Jeremy Hardy, training and technical support manager for Men Can Stop Rape DC, has experience in creating this type of community. He trains fraternity men to develop the concept of “healthy masculinity”, which he says involves recognizing unhealthy masculine attitudes that may be harmful to oneself or others, and calling out these behaviors in other men.
However, creating this community of responsibility is not simple. Hardy said the nature of Greek life often allows negative aspects of masculinity to influence fraternity members’ behaviors, especially at fraternity parties.
McCabe acknowledges that these parties contribute to men assaulting women on campus, which she says is part of the reason Alpha Chi Omega made the decision to officially sever all organizational ties with social fraternities.
“It’s not that sorority pushes us to get involved in parties, it’s just kind of the reality that we’re exposed to,” McCabe said. “And I think we have a really special opportunity to focus on what our sisterhood is: our philanthropy and our brotherhood.”