The Asian Greek Life community's role in rape culture and misogyny

Wednesday, July 15, 2020 - 11:09am

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Hibah Chughtai

CW: Sexual assault, rape, emotional manipulation.

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Over the past few weeks, stories of sexual assault, manipulation and rape have surged my Instagram homepage. In this second wave of the #MeToo movement, much of what has been circulating around is coming from my Asian-American community. This time, it feels more surreal as I hear from victims and perpetrators with whom I am acquainted. Both groups consist of people who have walked down the same hallways I walked, been to the same events and fraternity parties my friends have been to and currently live in the same neighborhood my friends and I live in. The prevalence and proximity of these stories are frightening, and it’s concerning to think about the many more left untold. 

These survivors have held months or years of emotional baggage and are using this movement as an opportunity to release their built-up torment. However, in an attempt to speak up against their perpetrators and empower others who may have gone through a similar experience, some victims are met with backlash and criticism. 

Linh Mai, University of North Carolina at Charlotte student and Alpha Kappa Delta Phi Sorority sister, recently shared a post on social media (which has since been taken down) of her alleged experience of having consensual sex with a fraternity brother and later discovering she was involuntarily filmed doing so by her ex-boyfriend, a UNCC Pi Alpha Pi Fraternity brother. This brother allegedly sent this video to a Snapchat group chat consisting of his pledge brothers and slut-shamed her for “hitting up all his pbros on the East Coast,” which Mai denied. This post has been taken down but a screenshot of it is below. After sharing her story on Instagram, members of the Pi Alpha Phi Fraternity across several universities on the East Coast began to condemn her in a Facebook Messenger group chat –– a chat that @ktlyndng posted screenshots of. Many commented on her appearance, calling her “ugly” and “fat,” and implied she and other victims are only speaking out now for attention. One member even said he had already seen about 15 posts about rape and joked that he should make one about “how [he] was raped by bros.” 

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Screenshot provided by Jenny Chong

As a result of these messages surfacing on social media, Pi Alpha Phi National Fraternity addressed the situation along with its other sexual misconduct, assault and exploitation allegations through a public statement. According to the statement, all fraternity activities across all chapters were indefinitely suspended as of July 4. They hired a law firm to investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct and asked for an independent investigator to investigate the institution and third party firm to review the organization. The National Board of Directors also asserted to hold their brothers accountable and to rebuild the foundational culture of their fraternity in the meantime. 

However, many commenters on the Instagram post expressed outrage at their response and are skeptical of the fraternity’s plans to rid their organization of rape culture and misogyny. They criticize the board’s decision to reach out to law enforcement, as many women do not report sexual violence for fear of reprisal, or the belief the police will not help or that further harm might be brought to them. Commenters are also doubtful of how rebuilding the fraternity would lead to change as “fraternity culture was founded on misogynistic principles” and “enable toxic masculinity,” @kathytrinh commented. Some are demanding more actions to be taken, such as de-lettering the members in the aforementioned group chat and even disbanding the entire fraternity. The fraternity has not further responded since the statement. 

Pi Alpha Phi is only one of the many organizations in the Asian Greek life community with sexual assault and misconduct allegations. Its sister sorority, Alpha Kappa Delta Phi, has also allegedly enabled rape and sexual assault. University of Buffalo student, Ami, recounts the night her friend and at-the-time fraternity pledge — under the pseudonym, Z — allegedly raped her in an instagram post. Ami allegedly told their friend, and at-the time a aKDPhi pledge, what Z had done to her. Even so, their friend kept her ties to him for Greek life connections and put Ami in more situations which allowed Z to continue sexually violating and traumatizing her. Ami claims the sisters of aKDPhi have used her story to take action against the brothers of Z’s fraternity but are not seeking repercussions for their friend’s involvement. 

The chapter has responded with a public statement to show their support with survivors and condemn acts of sexual assault. Ami feels the chapter is hypocritical as she reached out to them for help a while back and was told the situation was a personal matter, yet the sisters were quick to post an apology three days after Ami publicly shared her story. 

So far, 37 chapters across eight Asian-interest fraternities allegedly have at least one sexual assault allegation made against at least one of their brothers — including University of Michigan’s chapter of Lambda Phi Epsilon. Some chapters have taken steps towards creating a safe environment for survivors, such as the Omega chapter of Pi Delta Psi of the University of Connecticut. They have removed four brothers suspected of sexual misconduct from the fraternity and suspended their chapter for a year with the intentions for their existing members to educate, reflect and become allies in the time away. 

As much as apologies and statements may appease the public, activism on social media is only one small practice of solidarity. Establishing tangible plans to fix the inherent flaws within Greek life institutions is the next step in fostering a safe environment for survivors. Many Asian-American college students lean towards Asian Greek life institutions to seek a home away from home that promotes their cultural background and life-long friendship. The heightened exposure to sexual assault allegations against these institutions and their inadequate measures to support survivors has already caused the Asian-American community to form a sense of distrust with Asian Greek life. 

Fraternities and sororities must not discredit victims of sexual violence and their stories; they must hold all perpetrators and enablers — including their brothers and sisters — accountable. Change is a gradual process and the Greek life community must learn, listen and reflect whenever possible rather than sweeping their scandals under the rug. If not, these institutions will continue to breed dangerous sexual abusers, rapists and rape apologists who will become future parents, doctors, lawyers, engineers, politicians, businessmen and teachers. Unless proper actions are taken, they will continue to uphold rape culture and normalize an environment where victims are not believed and feel unsafe sharing their story. The cycle must end now, and Greek life institutions must hold up their end of the bargain to stop it. 

Jenny Chong can be reached at jenchong@umich.edu