In yesterday’s Fizz, we reported about Saturday evening’s UW rally on Greek Row, where hundreds of students and activists called attention to voices that are traditionally marginalized in frat culture. With signs that featured slogans such as “Fuck Transmisogyny,” the demonstrators—undergraduate students, Greek members, doctorate students, and alumni—called on fraternity and sorority members to “check their privilege.”
Using Facebook to get the word out earlier in the week, organizers proclaimed: “Greek Row has been a place where too many of us have been shut out for too long—we have been told we are too fat, too dark skinned, not able bodied, and don't fit the model.”
The announcement aroused vitriol, pushback, and cyberbullying by hundreds of online commenters, but the evening went smoothly. Student speakers, local activists, hip-hop emcees like Julie C and Jamil Suleman spoke about sexual assault and racism on Greek Row; 2015 has been punctuated by local and national headlines about ugly behavior at frats. The event also featured an educational zine table with texts like Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege.” Local NAACP attorney Dr. Sheley Secrest and National Pan-Hellenic Council president Keyaria Rhodes were two of several who took the mic to speak on the Greek Row lawn. (The NPHC is collaborative of nine historically African American fraternities and sororities.)
“There was so much truth telling, wisdom, and power,” UW anthropology doctoral candidate Kalaniopua Young said. “I am in awe and invigorated by the brave organizers, survivors, and thrivers who made this all happen.”
According to student and organizer Palca Shibale, the rally was organized as a response to several events at UW’s SAE fraternity including an incident in Februray when students yelled racial epithets at Black Lives Matter protesters, a sexual assault at the frat reported in late May, and allegations that white male UW fraternity members harassed black women at the ASUW Spring Show on May 14.
“I am hoping that people start questioning a lot of the problematic dynamics that happen with the UW Greek culture.” she says. “These are not and have never been isolated incidents as people would like to make it seem. All these issues [have culminated] into why we [had] this rally.”
Interfraternity Council president and Greek community member Nate Stockman agrees, stating that inequalities in the Greek community are historic and systemic.
“There’s a lot of history behind this rally,” Stockman said. “It would be ignorant to say that fraternities and sororities haven’t been historically white, or exclusive in their nature. I think the Greek community has come a long way from where it was decades ago, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still room to improve.”
Activists called attention to some specific areas that need improvement—like the fact that although a number of medical and counseling service options are present on campus, the university does not provide forensic rape kits on site. Health and Wellness Advocates Services director Shannon Bailie says that there is work being done with the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault to change that.
“We’ve been asking for sexual assault nurse examiners to be available at UW Medical Center and Hall Health,” Bailie says. “The time of arrival is uncertain, but we are hoping for this coming fall.”
Additionally, Rhodes alleged that the NPHC was not invited to the Greek Community Project forum on May 27, a conference about the very issue of racism within UW’s Greek community. Nor was the group included in the Daily’s 2015 annual pullout on Greek campus life until last notice. “I wrote something for the Daily last minute and also attended the GCP forum without invitation,” Rhodes told PubliCola.
According to GCP project coordinator Grace Chai, there were efforts made to reach out to the NPHC and the United Greek Council (UGC). She says the GCP aims to make more of an effort to be inclusive in the future.
“We had been in contact with UGC, but unfortunately our contact for NPHC was no longer on the executive board, so the message was simply never passed on to the right people,” Chai says. “When Keyaria brought this to our attention via the Facebook event page, we immediately reached out to reextend an invitation to her and all of NPHC.”
Stockman says there’s more to come in what’s been an educational year for the Greek community. Stockman told me this past year in part with Dawgs Take Action, approximately 700 to 900 members of the Greek community signed a pledge promising to call out sexual assault in their communities and to provide education about and practice consent. A number of Greek community members were present at the rally, and despite a couple of complaints about disrespectful individuals, Stockman says there were no major conduct issues.
“I believe the precedent has been set for Greeks, and now we have a long battle to fight,” Stockman said. “I believe that we must be patient, open minded, and willing to be uncomfortable along the way in our effort to become the inclusive and accepting Greek community that is necessary.”
This article has been updated. The number of Greek community members signing a pledge to promote sexual assault awareness was previously reported as 7,900.