Amidst the celebration and festivities that are the end of theses this past weekend, a conversation surrounding sexual violence continues to rage through our community, a topic this publication has covered many, many times before. These last few weeks, however, the discourse has intensified and fraternities, or more importantly the spaces in which they occupy, has become the center of attention and controversy.
There are a lot of angry people on campus right now, including me. More specifically, however, what bothers me the most about the way this conversation has taken place is that people continue to talk right past each other, and many times seem to completely disregard what others have to say.
So let’s talk about privilege for a little bit. Buzzfeed recently had another one of their typically useless quizzes going viral lately, this one asking, “How Privileged Are You?” It might be worth taking a look at the 100 point quiz and the contents of the criteria. Or go ahead, to take the quiz. “I went to an elite college,” for example, is something pretty much all of us should be checking off.
It may be kind of useless and just internet-buzz material, but for me, the quiz reminded me of two things: all of us have some form of privilege, and that sometimes we forget what privilege we hold. More importantly, however, it reminded me that some of us have significantly more privilege than others.
Hold on just a second. I hope you do not think I am digressing from the issue of sexual violence in this post, because privilege is an immense component of how we speak, what we say, and even how we say it. It shapes our views and beliefs, and those with privilege typically have a much easier time getting what they want compared to those who have much less. And in the discourse surrounding sexual assault at Wesleyan, privilege plays a huge role.
Thus my anger also stems from those who seem to have a lack of understanding of the privilege they wield. And if you already feel uncomfortable with the fact that I’m talking about privilege, even not just in this context but in general, chances are that you should probably think more about the privilege that you hold.
When I consider the privilege that I have, one of the first things I recognize is that as a cisgendered man, I hold considerable amounts of privilege right off the bat—which is why I sit my ass down and listen when others who do not identify as such have something to say. We undoubtedly live in a patriarchal society in which for every dollar a woman makes, a man makes roughly 28 cents more. But that is another topic, for another day. Male privilege is a thing—it’s real, and as it benefits men, it hurts women.
But that’s just about privilege. I haven’t even begun talking about the conversations on sexual violence yet.
Although Wesleyan began to admit women in 1968, patriarchal structures continue to exist on campus—that is something I am sure everyone can and should agree with. Any space in which there is an absence of women as equal stakeholders in that space is an example of patriarchy.
You got that right folks, I’m talking about frats. First, before the many of you that will undoubtedly leave a firestorm of comments, let me clear a few things off in a nice, easy to read list format:
- Sexual violence occurs everywhere on campus, not just the frats, and I am indeed very cognizant of that.
- There will be no portion of this post in which I will ever call for the disbandment of fraternities, or Greek life in general, at all.
- Everyone’s against rape culture and sexual assault, and I am not questioning anyone on that particular point.
- No stereotypes or judgement is being made of any individual of any community, at all, period.
- Privilege doesn’t just mean that you’re wealthy. Privilege also comes from many different facets of identity—including, but not limited to, gender, race, sexual orientation, or power. In fact, the privilege I’m talking about here isn’t really about wealth or class.
Are we good? Cool.
So the debate has become intimately personal, understandably, and the activism surrounding this grave issue has intensified in a manner that has called upon the entire campus to make some pretty significant changes. This has been best played out and exemplified in debates that have been taking place within the meetings of the Wesleyan Student Asembly (WSA). In the last General Assembly meeting about a hundred students, not including the student representatives themselves, attended to partake in the dialogue—as well as administrators who came to listen, including President Roth, Dean Mike Whaley, Sexual Violence Resource Coordinator Alysha Warren, Chief Diversity Officer Antonio Farias and others.
The WSA has been debating two resolutions, each representing two viewpoints—the first resolution entitled “The Future Role of Greek Organizations in the Wesleyan Community,” aka Resolution A, calls for fraternities to take sustained leadership on this issue and to undergo bystander intervention training, social host training, amongst other things with oversight. On the other hand, “Recommended Housing Policy Changes Concerning Greek Organizations,” or Resolution B, calls for many of the aforementioned pieces in Resolution A, but goes a step further calling for coeducation in Greek housing on campus.
With Resolution B, the language used emphasizes the need to focus on control of spaces—the residential spaces that fraternities on this campus control. It calls for fraternities with houses to become coeducational in constitution, membership, as well as residence, or for Wesleyan to remove program-housing status from those houses. Resolution A simply focuses on reforming the fraternities themselves directly, and does not reference any potential loss of program-housing status as a consequence for the frats.
Many in favor of Resolution A are worried that fraternities would lose their houses, and there have been various arguments in support of maintaining fraternity housing on campus—including but not limited to, historical precedence, their contribution to social life on campus, their assembly and formation of their brotherhood, and their commitment to change.
Those in strong support of Resolution B argue that these male-dominated patriarchal spaces need to be directly addressed because of the increased frequency of sexual violence that occurs in those spaces in comparison to the rest of campus. This is not to say sexual assault only happens in fraternities—everyone must acknowledge that it happens all over campus—but the proponents of Resolution B recognize that the gender inequalities that exist in these spaces are unsafe and reinforce rape culture.
Many in support of Resolution B have also noted that fraternities have had many chances to take leadership and commit to visible change, which they say has not taken place.
But I’d also like to add that just because some people feel safe in a space does not negate the fact that others do not feel safe in those spaces—so something needs to be done.
The conversation in WSA’s General Assembly last Sunday night extended from 8:30PM to past 11:30PM, with dozens of individuals speaking up about their experiences and viewpoints. The WSA releases their minutes one week after each meeting, so if you’re interested in what was said, I encourage you to read those minutes next week. The conversation encompassed not only arguments about residential spaces, but also how to improve sexual health education, awareness, and how to improve on sexual assault reporting—which is a grave issue that needs reform.
At the end of the day, I must bring what I’ve been writing about for about 1,300 words now back to privilege.
Attacking and dismantling privilege isn’t a punishment at all.
It’s a step for the community to move closer to some equality and equity on this campus—so long as there is any group on campus that feels like they do not hold a stake in any part of this community, something needs to be done to dismantle these barriers that are damaging.
Understandably, people only seem to rally around causes or issues when it affects them directly—which I think has been clear with the debates in the last few weeks. This is not to say any individual does not already care about this issue, but a guest pointed out at the WSA meeting this past Sunday that only a small handful—my quick estimate and count was just under ten—of men in the room were not already on the Assembly or in a frat. That’s saying something and begs the question: why are there are so many men from outside of those two groups missing from this community issue?
But that’s privilege, isn’t it?
These Greek residential houses on campus are also a form of privilege—living in these houses is a privilege that has not been granted to all students on this campus. Holding control of major social spaces, access to alcohol, control of entry are all other examples. And all these forms of privilege that is condoned by the university for a certain group of students and not others, an institutional barrier that creates these spaces. Trying to maintain privilege is one thing—trying to maintain a monopoly over it is another.
Wesleyan students are not exceptional—something that has been said many times that I think is worth repeating once again. We are not at an institution that is elevated above any others, so the forces of oppression and privilege that exist in the real world exist at Wesleyan as well. We may have had more women matriculating to Wesleyan in the last few years, but that’s not to say that patriarchy and male privilege does not continue to dominate this campus, not just in fraternities but in other parts of campus as well. Just a few examples: Out of ten people on President Roth’s leadership team, three are women and the other seven are men. On the Board of Trustees, there are notably more men than women. I’m sure I can go on.
Being a man already puts one in a more privileged position right off the bat. Power and control over spaces is just yet another dimension to it. Privilege doesn’t necessarily mean that you have any immediate benefit from your situation, in fact, it means that there are people who are damaged by the privilege and power you may hold.
I know I hold privilege. Heck, I’m demonstrating privilege by just writing this post, in assuming from the start that it is my right to write this post. But I strongly believe that we shouldn’t defend the privilege we hold, no matter how dear or close it is to our own identities, but instead use it to give a hand to those less-privileged.
So in this discourse, I simply encourage and hope you will consider the privilege and power you hold. And if someone in a position of less privilege or power needs you to listen, just listen. Listen to what they have to say, and why they are saying what they are, instead of defending yourself.
More importantly, in closing this long-winded post, I call upon all representatives on the WSA to not only take an active stance on this matter, but to also consider the underprivileged groups in the room that are rightfully asserting their voices. Listen to what they have to say, recognize the privilege you have in this conversation, and make the right decision.