A brief response to Alpha Tau Omega

For once, Indiana University responded swiftly and effectively to a charge of rape (well, they called it “hazing” and “sexual misconduct,” which is hardly a tomayto/tomahto situation, but) by suspending the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity within hours of the release of a video showing a pledge, surrounded by a crowd of young hollering men, performing oral sex on a woman.

The students involved have claimed that the young man involved was not a pledge, but a 21-year-old initiated member. This strains credulity, since the people in the room were divided between the fully-clothed in the background and the mostly-naked in the foreground–a pretty good indicator of a pledge-vs-initiate divide–and the man performing oral sex was wearing only his underwear. Many of the mostly-naked men appeared to have indecipherable words handwritten across their backs, which also suggests that they’re pledges. And we’re at the heart of pledge season for fraternities at IU, so this is the time when this kind of thing happens. Naysayers have also responded that anyone in the room was free to leave, but those people clearly underestimate the social pressures created by young adults in large groups, especially when the group is divided between the initiated members with authority, and the pledges with none.

I wonder, though: how will the university move forward from here? Will they view the issue as resolved with the disbanding of the fraternity, or will they use this as leverage to allocate more funding, more resources, and more brainpower to addressing the problem of sexual violence on campus?

Two years ago, I was chatting with a student who told me that his fraternity, Acacia (AKAK), had been suspended by both the university and the national office and had been kicked off campus.

“Why was your fraternity suspended?” I asked him.

He shrugged a little. “Everything,” he said.

“What does ‘everything’ mean?”

He laughed. “Hazing. Alcohol. You know, everything.”

You know, everything.

He then went on to explain that it wasn’t really a big deal, because he and a bunch of his fraternity brothers had been able to rent a block of four four-bedroom townhouses off-campus, so nothing really had to change for them.

A girl reported that she was raped in 2013 at the ATO house at their annual Ménage a Tau party. This is the event wherein each brother is invited to bring two women to the party, on the condition that the women dress in lingerie. They served expensive alcohol, apparently, the Natty Light replaced with Grey Goose and bubbly. An investigation took place, but nothing really happened.

At the end of August of this year, a police officer stumbled across two people having sex in the alley behind Kilroy’s, a popular student bar in downtown Bloomington. The woman, a student, said that the sex was nonconsensual. The man, not a student, said that consent had been given. Nobody was detained in the moment for further questioning.

Indiana University is one of a long list of universities under Title IX review by the Department of Education for mishandling of issues surrounding sexual assault and sexual harrassment.

New students are required to take a two-part online alcohol and sexual health awareness course. They view it as a hurdle to overcome to make sure they can register for their classes, and I’ve yet to hear a single student tell me something new they learned from it when I’ve asked them.

Since last year, flyers have been posted in women’s restrooms throughout campus encouraging students to travel in groups and take taxis home if they’re drunk. I asked many of my male friends if similar posters — perhaps some that encourage them to think critically and carefully about what qualifies as sexual consent–hung in the men’s rooms. There are posters, they told me, but they’re the same posters that hung in the women’s rooms.

“Sexual assault is a form of sexual harrassment,” the poster says, and every time I see it, I think they’ve got it backwards.

“If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, get help,” the poster advises, sagely.

There used to be one in one of the restrooms in an area of the main university library that’s mostly used by undergraduate students. Someone had crossed out “get help” and penned in “seek justice.”

I went over there yesterday, thinking I’d finally take a picture of it, as I’d been meaning to do for awhile.

The poster had been taken down and replaced with a clean one.

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