November 22nd, 2020
Content Warning: The following article discusses issues of sexual assault, rape, and intimate partner violence.
“There is nothing worse than a dry snatch.”
On February 16, 2020, the UNC-Chapel Hill Interfraternity Council (IFC) hosted keynote speaker David Hagan of LifeBrothers LLC who spoke these words to an auditorium of fraternity men in Memorial Hall.
The event was billed as a chance to discuss mental health in the Greek system; but, under the guise of a wellness presentation and the guarantee of a “closed” talk, Hagan used the platform to demean women and diminish serious issues such as alcohol abuse and interpersonal violence.
Far from being an opportunity to educate IFC members on mental health or combating sexual assault –– Hagan’s speech encouraged them to laugh about it. Worse, his comment making light of proper lubrication during sex, as well as many other tone-deaf “jokes,” received exuberant laughs from all those in attendance.
This laughter, ringing in Memorial Hall’s auditorium, echoes a broader sentiment surrounding identity-based violence and oppression in Greek life. The only thing that will change the sexist culture of fraternities is for women to stay away from them.
Hagan’s statements would never have come to light if not for the bravery of female members of Memorial Hall’s staff who reported the comments to the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office (EOC), so it’s time for sorority women to stand together against misogyny –– starting by boycotting all social functions until fraternity men receive a real education on sexual violence and bystander intervention.
Sexual activity should be consensual, and many men do not truly understand that such an agreement is defined by a firm and enthusiastic “yes!” Real change will not happen until fraternity men are a consenting party alongside sororities, taking a strong and vehement stance against a culture that demeans women –– including taking measures to discipline or remove those who violate the rules.
Hagan notably remarked that “the hours from 12 am to 4 am are for sleeping and fucking” while claiming that a defense attorney once told him there’s no definition of consent, according to a Memorial Hall usher working the event.
This disgusting language frames the issue of sexual assault in a manner that belittles survivors and perpetuates the myth of victim-blaming. If the IFC purposefully seeks out those that endorse this message, then it’s clear why such issues continue to plague fraternities at UNC-Chapel Hill.
In recent years, the statistic that “one in five women” will be sexually assaulted during their time in college has been a rallying cry among advocates for victims’ rights; but now, according to a 2019 “campus climate survey” commissioned by the American Association of Universities (AAU), student self-reported data estimates that sexual violence impacts closer to one in four undergraduate women. At UNC-Chapel Hill, that number is one in three.
Additional research demonstrates that fraternity men are significantly more likely to commit sexual assault than other men on campus. This is why education and training for fraternity men is necessary and should be taken seriously.
Jason Osemeka, co-Chair of Education for Champions for Change (C4C), believes that everyone has a role in preventing interpersonal violence and, with training, any person can help fight the prevalence of sexual assault. He believes a sorority boycott could push awareness –– and change –– to the forefront.
C4C is an organization comprised of men from various chapters of the UNC IFC Fraternity system who seek to obtain a better understanding of men’s attitudes on identity-based violence and to create a culture of awareness, safety, and prevention.
“I think that a sorority boycott would be effective, but it would require universal agreement [to the boycott], and I foresee the largest barrier being the comfort of individuals speaking on the issue,” says Osemeka.
“It’s something that so many people would rather not talk about, as a means to not place responsibility on their own shoulders. As uncomfortable as it is, this must change, particularly in fraternities, for substantial progress to be made.”
The work of C4C is a step in the right direction, but that progress is thwarted by fraternity men with bad attitudes. Representative of this population, both literally and figuratively, is UNC IFC President Brandon Wacaser –– someone who seems to believe that because nothing is perfect, a better world isn’t worth fighting for.
When asked what a perfect Greek system would look like, in regard to required education for fraternity and sorority members and how brothers can hold each other accountable, Wacaser didn’t include sexual violence as an issue to be solved and blamed the current pandemic for incomplete trainings on the subject.
“In an ideal world, there is no hazing, there is no drug use, and there is equal opportunity and diversity. While we are moving in this direction, it is definitely not there yet. In an ideal world (post-COVID-19), IFC continues its new member education training (4-step program), including courses on sexual assault and violence and alcohol/drug use.”
While he mentions a few initiatives from before the pandemic, and it’s possible that he didn’t understand what was being asked, it appears Wacaser circumvented both parts of the question without any viable explanation.
According to Wacaser, his main presidential duties are to “facilitate communication between [IFC] member fraternities and the university,” and “...to ensure that initiatives are followed through to better Greek life and our community.”
While he was willing to respond to questions about his role as IFC President, Wacaser chose not to respond to several questions regarding education initiatives surrounding sexual violence: “What sort of training/education should be required by members of the fraternity and sorority community,” “What is the role of sororities in preventing sexual assault, especially those that happen on fraternity property or are perpetrated by fraternity men,” and “Would a sorority social event boycott have any effect on getting fraternities to complete training on bystander intervention/sexual assault?”
In his own words, or rather lack thereof, it is clear that the latter part of his job description is poorly followed through –– if altogether nonexistent.
A senior member of Alpha Epsilon Pi, Jake (who has requested the omission of his last name), says that his fraternity does these sort of trainings –– though not every year.
“Even when we have them, they’re not required by the whole fraternity. Usually, it’s underclassmen and if you don’t go, you’ll only be fined or possibly barred from attending a social event –– nothing serious. I’m not claiming my fraternity handles these trainings well, but I’m very aware that the enforcement around these types of programs is lackluster at best and in some fraternities altogether nonexistent,” remarks Jake.
Amanda Harley, a senior member of Delta Advocates, doesn’t think the completion of this training is too much to ask –– given that it’s already required by their campus council.
According to Section VI, Article B of UNC’s IFC Constitution, “Each member fraternity shall regularly communicate the importance of its Active Members and New Members participating in educational programming covering the following topics: academic achievement, alcohol consumption, career preparation, civic engagement, environmental sustainability, hazing, leadership development, sexual assault/abuse, bystander prevention, and values and ethics.”
“I think the benefit of fraternity and sorority life is to help college students grow and gain leadership skills, but there hasn’t been a focus on that,” says Harley.
Delta Advocates is a cohort of undergraduate, female-identifying sorority women trained to provide an empathic and informed response for victims/survivors of gender-based violence and harassment.
One struggle of the program, however, is that there is no connectivity between Delta Advocates and their male counterparts in C4C when it comes to education in their respective councils.
“Ideally, all of Panhel[lenic] and IFC would have to intermingle and work with each other. We [Delta Advocates] just don’t have the exposure, and it’s really frustrating not to be interconnected with a whole other half of Greek life,” expressed Harley.
As IFC President, Wacaser’s spokesperson obligation can be interpreted as a duty to set a positive example; however, he is no role model.
“It is difficult to widely discuss and mandate a problem that is so personally destructive,” believes Wacaser when it comes to preventing sexual assault. “It is my hope that we shift our own culture to one of higher transparency.”
Wacaser’s words are emblematic of a broader cultural perspective. Sexual assault is not “personally destructive,” it is harmful to entire communities and creates epistemological values that uphold gender inequality. This attitude and the attitude of countless other men, as alluded to by Jake and his experiences as an IFC member at UNC, are what perpetuate a cycle of sexual violence in fraternities and allow current training initiatives to fail.
Hoping for better transparency is great but, coming from someone who heads the council responsible for bringing David Hagan to UNC and creating an event shrouded in secrecy, Wacaser should simply be transparent by taking clearer action on enforcing the education already required of fraternity members.
If not for the courage and initiative of female members of Memorial Hall’s staff, who made the discourse public by reporting it to the EOC, the egregious remarks of a misogynistic man and subscription by all IFC members would never have come out.
This is why women must act. Nine months later, the EOC has yet to take any sort of punitive or restorative action.
Holly Lovern is a seasoned Gender Violence Services Coordinator for UNC-Chapel Hill. In her university role, she provides free, confidential support and advocacy for students impacted by gender-based violence or harassment.
“I think the University has a responsibility to help equip students with information, knowledge and skills to utilize in these moments and respond and hold groups accountable when they are causing harm and aren’t living up to our values as a community. Campuses vary in how fraternity and sorority houses are related to the university—some are provided by the institution and are therefore more directly in the campus jurisdiction. Ours [UNC-Chapel Hill] are privately owned, so they are not within our campus jurisdiction.”
Lovern and other university leaders are doing the best they can under difficult circumstances to facilitate accountability and change campus culture; however, UNC’s recent embarrassment over the handling of COVID-19 is a testament to their historical failure in protecting student safety –– and sexual assault is hardly an “unprecedented” issue. If the UNC administration will not step up, sorority women must follow the lead of Memorial Hall staff and fight the widespread disease of sexist behavior and identity-based violence in the fraternity system.
Complacency is just as bad as complicity, so ladies rise up. Boycott because enough is enough.
NOTE: The details/quotes on the David Hagan speech were provided in the anonymous report of the event from Memorial Hall staff to the EOC. I have a copy from my work as a Delta Advocate in partnership with Student Government and Student Wellness. I can forward you the email if you’d like to see proof, but I’m not sure how to link the email to this document.
**Not actually cited in text, but was a great resource for additional context**