In the University of Michigan’s Angell Hall Auditorium A, the mirthless drone of a college student not much older than myself is discussing bystander intervention. Or at least, he’s describing it. He imbues the lecture with so little care that the other young men surrounding him are just as disengaged, as though he were talking about the most inconsequential of problems.
For a council that has been under scrutiny in recent months, the Interfraternity Council has visibly done little that actually exhibits their commitment to ending sexual assault within Greek life.
Kinesiology senior Cass Bouse-Eaton is ready to see this change. Bouse-Eaton is one of the leaders of the Panhellenic Peer Educator program, originally created by U-M alumni Alyssa Gorenberg and Eileen Enright to educate and prevent sexual misconduct within the Greek community. Now, with over 100 members across all 17 sororities within the Panhellenic Association, they are deeply impacting with programs such as the Panhel Speak Out, where survivors from all councils were invited to speak about their experiences within the community.
Bouse-Eaton, who helped organize the Speak Out alongside creator Ally Cohen, an LSA senior, is already beginning to see the indelible mark PPE is making. She spoke with me about her goals with the Speak Out, describing how she attended the annual Sexual Assault and Prevention and Awareness Center Speak Out in spring 2015 and was incredibly moved. Being a recent survivor at that time, she said that Speak Out made her feel empowered, heard and cared for in a way she hadn’t felt within a large group setting on campus.
Furthermore, she believed the experience of survivors in the Greek life community could differ from the general population, and wanted to create a space for both survivors to share their experiences and allies to give their support.
This is something she would like to see expand to other councils and recognizes the strides IFC has made in recent months. However, she has called on them to get these programs off the ground, saying, “IFC is making great strides on beginning a program that will work for their council, but needs more manpower and volunteers to get off the ground.”
However, even if IFC has tried to repair itself, these attempts have not manifested after the self-imposed ban.
Since the suspension imposed on social programming by IFC there have been regulations placed on what alcohol can be provided by fraternities at mixers and parties. Though they have made several attempts at rectifying the excessive hospitalizations that occurred last year little has been done to change the culture of sexual assault and misogyny that has been fostered.
Between 2015 and 2016, there were 88 sexual misconduct allegations reported against fraternities on campus. The suspension was, as explained by Alex Mayhan, former executive vice president of IFC, meant to launch a period where the members of the board would begin "assessing our policies and practices and developing a formal plan going forward."
Yet on issues of sexual misconduct and violence, the members of IFC have shown little effort in reforming the bare-bone system erected to stagnate this kind of behavior. They should be making more bold strides towards making fraternities safer, just as Panhel has done to raise awareness of sexual assault.
Prior to the suspension, associate members of fraternities attended mandatory IFC-led programming and Change It Up!, a session offered by the University’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Training and Education to bring, as their website describes, “bystander intervention skills to the University of Michigan community for the purpose of building inclusive, respectful and safe communities.”
Yet some students see these kinds of programs as insufficient. I spoke with LSA freshman Noah Kalishman, who is currently an associate member of my fraternity. We both attended the functions, and neither of us was impressed with the execution of such programming.
Kalishman described how the IFC program and Change It Up! demonstrated a clear lack of interest on both the University and IFC’s behalf in halting the sanction of rape culture within Greek life. He stated plainly that, “these programs are terrible … No one wants to get lectured at for an hour … They are simply things that the University does to say that they taught us, when in reality they are terrible and ineffective”.
And, though Bouse-Eaton was not as critical of these events, to some extent she agrees, saying, “Providing the information is so important, but just as vital is the integration of this information into the culture of each sisterhood and brotherhood, which only happens through continued conversation.”
Such attitudes have even forced certain fraternities to take sexual assault prevention education into their own hands. In the fraternity Kalishman is currently joining, he described how attending the Panhellenic Speak Out was mandated by the chapter itself so that new members could gauge the effects of sexual misconduct, especially within Greek life.
Kalishman was laudatory of the Speak Out, which he felt was both deeply moving and galvanizing, saying, “(The Speak Out) made me think about things that I have seen in my time at Michigan … It illustrated that anyone in the community could become a victim of sexual assault.” He felt that in the future, programming should “emulate that of the Speak Out.”
He was hesitant on making the programming a mandatory, implying that it may cause people to dread attending. However, that does not mean there are ways for IFC to test out more personalized approaches. As Bouse-Eaton described, there are pilot programs the Office of Greek Life and SAPAC are launching to encourage more open discourse on sexual assault within Greek life.
But, as Bouse-Eaton explained, IFC cannot rely on Panhel to do the work for them. It’s time for IFC to step up in clamping down on assault within Greek life. To do so, perhaps it’s time IFC made a visible step towards emulating programs such as PPE and the Speak Out.
And in the meantime, Bouse-Eaton says, “Keep talking with your brothers, with your friends in sororities, and do some examination of both yourself and your chapters. That’s how true culture change starts.”
Note: Cass Bouse-Eaton’s personal views don't necessarily reflect those of the Office of Greek Life or the National Panhellenic Conference.
Joel Danilewitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org