MIT’s fraternity leaders on their preliminary efforts to fight sexual assault
Editor’s Note: This letter contains explicit references to sexual assault.
We have a problem.
“I had asked him to stop multiple times and tried to push him off of me. I knew this. He ignored me, but who was to blame? I had not spit in his face or tried to claw his eyes out. Instead I lay on his bed naked — with my clothes peeled off — trying to calmly explain that I would not, I could not, have sex with him. The rapid, forceful, and completely foreign advances were too much already. My ‘stop’ was immediately silenced with ‘your body wants me so bad.’ When he didn’t listen, my brain failed to believe it was actually happening and shut down. I felt deep guilt and shame that my subsequent silence was interpreted as a waving white flag: mistaken for consent. In the days following, I could not eat. I could not sleep. I could not cry. I could not move.”
Where did this incident happen? UVA? Amherst? Dartmouth? No, it happened here at MIT. It happened on our campus. It has been almost one year since this anonymous account of sexual assault was published in The Tech. It should seem obvious to most that everyone should act to prevent this from ever happening, yet the recent sexual assault survey at MIT would suggest — to our disappointment — the opposite.
In the survey, 35 percent of undergraduate women and 14 percent of undergraduate men on our campus said that they experienced unwanted sexual behaviors, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. Despite the fact that 63 percent of those who were sexually assaulted told someone close to them what happened, only 5 percent went through official channels to report the incident. Ninety-seven percent of MIT students said that they would respect someone who tried to prevent sexual assault, yet only 44 percent of us confronted a person we knew to be a perpetrator. We are better than this.
We need a cultural shift. We need to acknowledge that this problem can only improve if we all want to see this change. Sometimes, this means standing up to our brothers, sisters, and friends — that is hard. There is no easy fix to this problem.
Our fraternity community has taken initial steps in the past year to educate and train ourselves about the problem of sexual assault. To that end, the IFC, in collaboration with VPR and CDSA, created the new PartySafePlus and PartySafePlus: Help a Friend trainings. PartySafePlus helps fraternity members develop skills to create a safer social environment on campus. These skills focus on topics such as sexual assault prevention, bystander training, gender equality, and safe alcohol consumption. Additionally, Help a Friend provides fraternity members with more in-depth training on how to be active bystanders and support peers who are in need.
As of December, we have 735 members (67 percent of our membership) PartySafePlus trained since the program was launched back in May. We also have 363 members, (33 percent of our membership) Help a Friend trained. While we are proud of how far we’ve come in such a short period of time, we’re still not satisfied.
As we set out to do more, we are actively involved in and sponsor the “It’s On Us, MIT” campaign within the Title IX working group. The goal of the campaign is to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported across campus. We are not satisfied with only awareness. Awareness is the beginning, now is the time for action. We can do better, we can be better.
We have a long way to go. The sexual assault survey put it all on the table. Sexual assault happens on our campus. As representatives of over 1,000 MIT undergraduates, we are disturbed and ashamed by the role fraternities have played in this environment. We need to do more to prevent sexual assault and we cannot do it alone. We need every single fraternity member to make a difference.
In order to do so, we must commit ourselves to further action. Our goal is to have all fraternity members be knowledgeable about sexual assault and be proactive in preventing it. We will start house-by-house education workshops that repeat every year. The workshops will be presented to each house individually and will provide their members with scenario-based training. We will also increase the minimum threshold for PartySafePlus training, and increase our expectations for PartySafePlus: Help a Friend training.
Further, we will collaborate with the Panhellenic Association as they build a model to train their leaders to serve as a resource for their chapters. In a similar light, we will provide additional education to the leaders and officers of each fraternity. Guidance and mentorship will help shift the culture of each house to be more open and accountable.
Finally, we want to bring our efforts beyond the confines of our own community. On our end, we will begin working with other living communities on our campus as well as other nearby colleges. We wholeheartedly believe that we have a lot to learn from other schools and we can similarly share the progress we have made with their Greek systems. In doing so, we believe that we will have a real chance of making a broader impact.
The most impactful change, however, will not come from programs or trainings. It can only come from each of us individually. We need to begin by changing our attitudes. We must realize that the biggest impact we can have as individuals is to believe our friends when they come to us and tell us that they’ve been sexually assaulted. We must set aside the skepticism and listen.
Now is the time to dedicate ourselves to end sexual assault.
Haldun Anil is President of the IFC, and Samuel Oppenheim is the President-elect of the IFC. They write on behalf of the presidents of Alpha Delta Phi, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Beta Theta Pi, Chi Phi, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Delta Psi / No.6, Delta Tau Delta, Kappa Sigma, Nu Delta, Phi Beta Epsilon, Phi Delta Theta, Phi Kappa Sigma, Phi Kappa Theta, Phi Sigma Kappa, Pi Lambda Phi, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Sigma Chi, Sigma Nu, Tau Epsilon Phi, Theta Chi, Theta Xi, Zeta Beta Tau, and Zeta Psi