I get it. We need someone to blame. American University is my Alma Mater, and I want to get this out of the way first: I loved every moment at AU. I won’t pretend I’m not biased. When I first heard the news that there were assaults on campus, I was devastated.
As most of you know by now, I will be the first in line for a fight against sexual assault, in any context. When I got an email that alluded to inappropriate conduct on AU’s campus I was shocked and did my own research to find the truth. First, I learned that the story involved what is AU’s “illegal” fraternity, Epsilon Iota, or EI. The fraternity was removed from campus, along with all other fraternities and sororities, in the University’s effort to make AU a dry campus. EI lost its charter to be a “real” fraternity due to its known past illegal activity.
Jezebel, along with other news outlets, reported the story of a male student who was assaulted by EI members and put in the hospital after deciding the pledge to a “rival” fraternity. EI members reportedly shouted gay slurs at him, ran him down with a car, and beat him until he was unconscious. Seventy emails were also revealed to the administration that EI is actively involved in other, shockingly abhorrent activity. They tell the inside story of the EI culture best:
“She had a friend who got raped at our house? I would like to meet this lying c&#t and show her how African men treat their woman.”
“[H]it me up if you need a hot b!#%h to vomit all over.”
The emails get the message across: EI is rape central. The words “rapey” and “rape culture” are being thrown around like basketballs, and they should be. I, in no way, want to defend the behavior of the men who participate in this non-fraternity.
In light of the recent stories of campus sexual assault that are finally getting more attention, the behavior of this ex-fraternity at AU is of course going to cause a firestorm. And it should. But, there are some things I must say.
Who Chose Evil?
I’ve received emails from AU that state the University is taking every action to put a stop to these illegal actions. Despite what some may believe, AU is ready for a fight. In the words of one email I received, the behavior of the EI “brothers” is against all that AU stands for, it is illegal, and the University is prepared to bring this to court.
The Huffington Post weighed in on the story and, for the most part, I agreed with the author. However, she lost me when she said this:
“American University has issued a couple of strongly worded condemnations, with the obligatory investigations are pending language. The thing is, American University allowed Epsilon Iota brothers to flourish at the school. Degrees, prestigious internships, and access to political and financial power were all rewards for rape, rampant drug use, and abuse of the system. American University allowed these young men to willingly, knowingly choose evil.”
Jezebel has also criticized AU for removing all frats from the campus, requiring the frat houses to move far off campus, making it more dangerous than if they were still housed on campus. But is this really the problem?
The Huff Post author seems to want to hold the entire university accountable for EI’s behavior, for allowing them to continue with their degrees, get prestigious internships, while the women they victimized have no choice but to continue to go to class with those who have assaulted them.
I think this misses the point, entirely. Should universities in general be held accountable for sexual assault on campus? Unequivocally, yes. When a university knows that illegal activity, particularly something as egregious as rape, is happening to their students at the hands of other students, should they intervene? This doesn’t even require an answer.
Here’s the problem with the way AU is being portrayed. It’s so easy to say that AU is releasing the “obligatory” statements that say it’s taking necessary action. It’s also easy to say that AU should have done more to prevent this. And, arguably, they should have. But AU didn’t “choose” this evil, as so many are implying. The members of the EI fraternity did. AU didn’t make these men rapists, then turn a blind eye and usher them into yearned-after internships and knowingly allow them to earn their stripes. I can’t attest to what AU knew and what it didn’t. But what I can say is that, in this case, AU is reacting. It already did so when it took away EI’s charter.
The actions of what students do on their own time isn’t within the control of the University. The individuals chose to commit these evil acts. When we are talking about sexual assault, the conversation too often shifts the blame to the victim or, in this case, the university. But the members of EI are the people who are responsible for the physical and sexual assaults of other AU students. As is so often the case, we must place the blame where it belongs – not solely with the AU, but with the men who create, cultivate, and engage in this culture.
AU did not endorse this.