This week, the University of Michigan student body will elect a new Central Student Government. Last Thursday, the candidates for CSG president and vice president from aMplify, eMpower, momentUM, MVision and True Blue faced off in a debate held by The Michigan Daily. During this debate, the candidates from MVision, Daniel Greene and Izzy Baer, both members of Greek life, failed to adequately address the allegations of sexual violence that led to the Interfraternity Council’s two-month suspension of all fraternity social activities.
We recognize that MVision’s vice presidential candidate, Izzy Baer, said at The Michigan Daily debate last Thursday that, “as a survivor, I can tell you that it’s a deeper cultural change and it's not just about putting cameras or expanding resources.” We support her and believe that she brings an important perspective to the table as a candidate and as the current Vice Speaker for the CSG Assembly. We also acknowledge her bravery and resilience to be able to speak about her experience at the debate. However, MVision’s failure to place the blame directly on IFC’s policies and Greek life culture leaves us with concerns that, if elected, a Greene administration would not strongly and proactively address sexual violence within Greek life.
No candidate, in our opinion, provided a clear answer in the debate as to what their potential administration would do to address sexual violence, including rape and harassment, which is one of the most serious issues facing the University. A 2015 University-sponsored survey found that 22.5 percent of female undergraduate students and 9.2 percent of female graduate students were survivors of sexual violence. It is therefore incredibly disappointing to see such lackluster responses during the debate from those that would lead CSG.
While all responses were underwhelming, we were particularly bothered by MVision’s answer because they failed to provide adequate policy solutions to combating sexual misconduct within Greek life. MVision has placed great emphasis on sexual assault prevention and women’s empowerment throughout their campaign, so it was disheartening that their response consisted of a vague call to “change the culture.” Though the culture of sexual assault and coercion is pervasive on our campus, when asked for specific plans to address sexual misconduct in Greek life, a potential CSG administration must be able to provide more than the declaration of a cultural problem. Furthermore, discussing the culture of sexual assault without mentioning Greek life or IFC is somewhat incoherent. Many Greek life members perpetuate the toxic attitudes surrounding sexual assault, and misconduct occurs too often at Greek life events such as fraternity parties.
Izzy Baer did briefly mention MVision’s proposed “Next Step Program,” which is the party’s plan for combating sexual violence. Unfortunately, it also falls short in adequately addressing the role Greek life plays in the serious matter. Though they characterized the plan as a comprehensive way to approach the problem, it offers no novel policy ideas, but merely suggests expanding resources and increasing funding for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. Furthermore, the only mention of the Greek community is when grouped together with all other student organizations.
The question asked at the debate was not about the culture of sexual misconduct on our campus as a whole, but specifically about last semester’s IFC suspension, and for a plan in regard to sexual misconduct in Greek life. MVision is the only party with a presidential and vice presidential candidate who are members of Greek life, and it is the only party who failed to place any blame on that community. This is unacceptable and it leads us to wonder if a Greene administration would actively hold IFC accountable for issues of sexual misconduct. Last semester’s suspension was absolutely warranted, but it will be largely futile if there are not tangible changes made within IFC to address this problem. We worry that MVision does not fully recognize their responsibility as a potential CSG administration to make sure that these changes are enacted.
To be fair, MVision’s platform does provide some solid ideas to improve student safety, such as reinstating the Night Owl bus route. Nonetheless, they are not the best party to address the endemic problem of sexual violence on our campus. Their platform lacks any truly innovative ideas to address this issue. Even more concerning is the inability of the top of their ticket to directly call out IFC and Greek life for their role in perpetuating the circumstances that put so many students, especially female students, at risk. Though we acknowledge rape culture goes beyond IFC, Greek life is a powerful force on our campus and has the ability to influence the broader University’s culture. If the Greek life community decided to take accusations of perpetuating rape culture seriously and made a deliberate effort to rid their community of this issue, it would result in a safer party culture throughout the greater Ann Arbor community as well. As members of Greek life, Greene and Baer have the unique opportunity to enact positive change throughout the University. We fear that based on their answers during The Daily’s debate, they would waste this opportunity and continue with the status quo.
Margot Libertini, Elena Hubbell and Ali Safawi are Editorial Board members.