Since the beginning of fall semester, Ohio University's student body has been abuzz with conversation about the recent rise in sexual assault cases. As of right now, 11 reports have been filed to OUPD as well as to the Athens Police Department. And this statistic, of course, does not factor in any of the unreported assaults that may have taken place.
As a female student at this university, I'm more concerned for my safety on campus than I've ever been before. The casual caution I would take on my late-evening walks has now turned into almost paralyzing fear. Being outside at even as early as dusk is high-risk, which is an issue because I can't confine myself to my dorm room all night when I have responsibilities I need to take care of.
In their efforts to mitigate the effects of "the red zone," organizations all over campus have been addressing the ongoing issue by hosting different kinds of anti-sexual violence events. For example, OU's Survivor Advocacy Program (SAP) is hosting a series of workshops from September 19th to October 17th for survivors of sexual assault to increase self-compassion and learn coping strategies. POWER/GAMMA organized a "power hour" on September 19th to discuss the implications of the infamous red zone for college students. The Ohio University Police Department is also offering free Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D.) training to female students with its classes starting in late October.
In spite of all of these programs being readily available, what people have been most receptive to so far is a tweet sent out by Ohio University's Interfraternity Council. On September 12th, 2018, the IFC at OU tweeted a series of photos depicting anti-sexual assault and pro-consent banners that had been hung at several fraternity houses.
#MyFraternity at Ohio University means supporting survivors. https://t.co/cBrAmFfaDD— Ohio University IFC (@Ohio University IFC) 1536769084.0
Pictured above are the banners hung up by fraternities Delta Tau Delta, Pi Kappa Phi, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and Phi Delta Theta. Respectively, they read "Stand With Survivors," "Consent is BAE #BeforeAnythingElse #AthensTogetHER," "'No' Does Not Mean 'Convince Me'," and "It is Not Consent If They Are Too Afraid to Say No."
Countless male and female students have been commending these fraternities' members for their fight against what we hope is not a sexual assault epidemic on our campus. But in all honesty, I am not too blown away by this, and you shouldn't be, either.
I doubt I am the only OU student bold enough to say what a lot of us are thinking: these banners are a great start, but they shouldn't be nearly as celebrated as they are.
Don't get me wrong—the banners are a noble gesture and I respect that there are OU fraternity brothers out there who genuinely support survivors and sexual assault prevention. But printing these words on white sheets and displaying them for all to see isn't an action that deserves so much praise.
Fraternities all over the country are stigmatized by associated sexual assault cases and the promotion of interpersonal violence, so I understand why these chapters at OU wanted to distinguish themselves from the horrible cases throughout the years. But while not every frat member condones rape and other forms of sexual violence, there is no way we can say for certain that none of them do. Past or future offenders could very well be hiding behind their fraternities' banners to be grouped in with the sincere young men who do care about ending sexual assault on campus. There is no way of knowing who is in the clear and who isn't at face value, so we shouldn't be putting so much faith in a banner.
And besides, just a few weeks ago, the Bobcat Barstool uploaded photos of other banners proudly showcased at locations throughout Athens.
Here is Ohio University's Sigma Pi chapter posing in front of their house. Judging from their willingness to take this picture, they are clearly advocating the crude words written on their banner:
And here are a few more examples of other heartfelt messages seen at various OU off-campus housing locations:
My point is this: if disgusting messages such as the ones shown above can just as easily be written as sincere and compelling ones can, why are we applauding the good banners' creators so much? The IFC banners are just good—they aren't groundbreaking or overly laudable because anyone can hang up a sign with words they've written on them. There is no telling who is and who isn't capable of committing an act of sexual violence based on the banners they fly on their houses.
It doesn't matter if they were made by frat boys or by random people—we shouldn't be viewing these messages as so influential when there are STILL attacks happening regularly on our campus.
Members of Ohio University's IFC, you have done a decent job so far of expressing your sentiments. But even with the thousands of likes and retweets on the photos, the banners simply aren't worth all of the hype you have been receiving over the past few days. I hope that we can all work together as a Bobcat family to make our campus safer for everyone who lives and learns here.