Sexual assault on college campuses is an epidemic with no cure … yet. As the scope of this issue plagues campuses across the country, many university leaders look at their embattled Greek systems and consider (secretly or openly) whether to engage the culture or disengage the systems altogether. They are looking for signs of hope.
That hope has emerged at Valparaiso. Borne by our Fraternity’s leadership and backed by a committed institution, a SigEp-led program has shown promise for creating a climate with the key prerequisite for change: 100 percent awareness. A culture has to be acute in its awareness before sexual violence prevention will work. That awareness takes time, a student catalyst, university commitment and a full programming calendar.
At Valparaiso, the catalysts were undergraduate SigEps in 2001. These men realized that they needed to know more about sexual assault to be able to prevent it in the house. They met with Paula Dranger, director of Sexual Assault Awareness and Facilitative Education (SAAFE), who recounted what happened when she and her SAAFE Student Advocates went to the SigEp house.
“We divided into four groups and asked each group to present ideas about what a safe house could look like,” said Dranger. “There were so many good ideas. I asked them how they thought we should prioritize the ideas, and the president said, ‘No, we’re going to do them all.’”
After that first day, Dranger remembers telling her staff, “I think we’ve just seen something amazing happening. And what makes it so wonderful is that men did this.”
The chapter instituted what they called SAAFE House Squads at parties, where certain brothers wore a yellow shirt to mark their job: keep an eye out for potentially dangerous situations. They would report erratic behavior or other hazardous situations directly to Dranger, knowing that the chapter might have to deal with some consequences.
“They understood that brotherhood means being responsible for the brothers and to the chapter and to the ideals of the Fraternity,” said Dranger. “They were totally committed to doing something about this issue.”
In the 13 years since that meeting, the university has instituted the SAAFE and Empowering Organization program across the Greek community. Chapters are required to earn accreditation annually by attending awareness and educational programs about bystander intervention and rape myths.
“When we talk about Title IX and VAWA education, we can count on [reaching] 30 percent of the campus right away,” said Assistant Dean of Students Dr. Carolyn Whittier. “The fraternity and sorority community is a really effective vehicle to spread this message.”
“We’re interested in embedding the change efforts into the culture of the campus,” said Dr. Stewart Cooper, director of counseling services.
The programming and awareness is so embedded in fact, that the men in the chapter don’t seem to think it’s extraordinary. They expect everyone to understand that young men have the responsibility to care for and protect anyone who is vulnerable. “It doesn’t feel special or unique, this is just what you do,” said Marshall Miller, ’14, former chapter president and current SigEp national student director.
Chapter President Caleb Liptak, ’15, still questioned whether the education was deep enough. He said 94 percent of brothers participate in some sort of SAAFE event over the course of a year, and 90 percent participate in the VU Owns the Night walk, but he confessed that they want new ideas on how to do more. “Everyone knows sexual assault is bad,” said Liptak. “Nobody is hesitant to talk about it on this campus.”
That simple sentiment—so common on Valparaiso’s campus and yet woefully underrepresented on many campuses in the country—is the blueprint for a future without rape in the Greek system.
If the Greek system is going to partner with universities, lead the charge and survive the next 100 years, it can watch and learn from the model conceived and carried out at Valparaiso’s SigEp house.
Dale Thomas Vaughn, founder of the Global Center for Healthy Masculinities (HealthyMasculinities.org) is a writer and campus speaker on sexual assault prevention.