You made it. Outlasting the rounds of recruitment, you’re proud to meet the people you’ll call family for the next four years. In a crowded field surrounded by bright and hopeful faces, you finally don’t feel alone. You’ve found a home, and definitely your future bridesmaids. After all of your difficult decisions in your senior year of high school, you finally know you made the right one. You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. “Zeta Tau Alpha is your family now.”
That’s how it’s supposed to be, right? An overwhelming sense of community and acceptance. You can’t help but feel overjoyed at the journey you’re about to embark on. As a new member of Greek life, you are immediately “in’’ with different fraternities around campus. Formals, mixers, and parties will soon fill your calendar. Although you feel such excitement about meeting new people, you remember that not everyone you meet will have your best interests at heart.
Young women in Greek Life are 74% more likely than other students to experience sexual assault, said a report from The Guardian in 2014.
Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln were reminded of this reality on their second day of classes, as they woke up to an email from the university explaining that a sexual assault had been reported earlier that morning on campus. “I woke up and saw the notification in that email for this particular assault. I thought it was really unfortunate and disappointing, but I also realized it was the first week of school, so I wasn’t surprised,” senior English major at UNL, Grace O’Keeffe recounted, “I think it’s really sad that I wasn’t more shocked by it.”
As the day went on, anger among students on campus rose — this wasn’t the first allegation for this fraternity. This particular frat, Phi Gamma Delta, more commonly known as Fiji, has a history of sexual violence against women at UNL. “I heard about them a lot in passing,” O’Keeffe explained, “I have never been part of Greek Life. I still knew about Fiji though. It was kind of a point of female bonding. You’d often hear about Fiji being that house. Talking about it helped increase solidarity among women and keep us safe. It was like a secret that wasn’t really a secret.” O’Keeffe, like many others, gathered in front of the Fiji house for several nights to protest its removal from campus permanently.
Upset with UNL’s seeming lack of action and the frequency of sexual assault on campus, O’Keeffe stood in solidarity with the most recent victim of Fiji and the many others that have been affected by campus sexual assault in the past. “A lot of people were talking, and it started to turn into a little bit of a movement. [Sexual assault] is somewhat normalized on campus. I was angry, a lot of people were, so we took to protesting,” O’Keeffe said. “The organizers did a great job, and I respect their ability to get things together fast. Steps are being taken in the right direction, and I wish that we could have a different campus culture, but I’m happy that things are changing and people are showing support.”
Hoping for some form of action from the University, O’Keeffe took to social media to pour out her thoughts on the situation for the rest of the world to see. Within a few hours, thousands of people were interacting with and sharing her post to call for change within the school’s community. “I’ve never had a post on social media get that kind of response before. I had to turn off my Instagram notifications because it was distracting me from what I really wanted. It was powerful to see that so many people felt the same way,” O’Keeffe explained. Calls for Fiji’s removal quickly became a movement as a petition created by UNL students received more than 400,000 signatures nationwide and public support from campuses across the country.
O’Keeffe attended several protests throughout the week in hopes that action would be taken. She witnessed the changing atmosphere of the protests as the days went on. “The anger shifted into allowing other victims of sexual assault to tell their stories and how they recovered from their experiences. I found that sharing personal stories was a lot more impactful for me,” O’Keeffe said.
O’Keeffe, like many others, wants the rest of the community to know that this isn’t just a Fiji problem: several other fraternities on campus have sexual assault allegations, too. Days after the Fiji protests broke out, Sigma Chi, another frat on campus, announced its self-suspension as they had a sexual assault reported over the weekend. “I worry that the movement is losing its focus,” O’Keeffe said. “Around campus, several sororities and fraternities have signs in support for victims, I worry that it has become performative. It’s important to realize that [the perpetrator] is the face of a systemic problem. Lots of other fraternities on campus also have sexual assault allegations. Justice doesn’t begin and end with Fiji. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done both inside and outside of UNL. Sexual assault culture on college campuses is very prevalent, and people should consider it before going into college.”
Locally, high schoolers took note of UNL’s response.
“I’m still not sure if Greek life is for me,” junior Maggie Morris said. “I feel like there’s been a lot of things happening in the news that just make it seem not as appealing as it does on Instagram.” With thousands of followers online, major sororities across the country draw in more and more potential recruits every year with their posts. “It looks sugarcoated online,” Morris went on to say, “At first it seems all exciting with bid day, but as the year goes on, they don’t show as much of what really goes on.” As Morris begins to look into colleges this year, safety on campus is one of her top priorities. “Knowing that the victim of the sexual assault at UNL was the same age as some of my friends, it reminds me that this type of stuff can happen to anybody, anywhere, and I’m scared,” Morris remarked.
Others took this opportunity to join in the fight against sexual assault on college campuses.
“Campus sexual assault is such a prevalent problem, and so many women have to deal with it,” senior Olivia Hovey said. “Universities need to stop sweeping it under the rug and actually face these problems and provide women resources instead of trying to protect the perpetrators.” Hovey’s social media timelines, like many others, were flooded with posts about UNL. After signing the petition and doing everything she could online to show her support, Hovey decided to make the drive down to UNL to stand in solidarity with victims. “There were a lot of men and women present at the protest,” Hovey said, “It was really encouraging to see men there because a lot of time they are seen as being the problem, but in this case they were working to be part of the solution.”
The fight for safety and justice for survivors of sexual assault on college campuses is far from over. As cases of sexual assault are reported every day, more people have become vigilant in preventing future cases. O’Keeffe, Morris and Hovey are hopeful that the raised awareness causes others to realize sexual assault is everyone’s issue.