The stigma attached to Greek life is hard to shake, especially with the recent scandals at the University of Oklahoma that involved their chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon chanting a racist hymn. In response to these incidents and the media’s portrayal of Greeks, stereotypes are continuously recycled. Although sometimes deserving of its criticism, Greek life is the organization that everyone loves to hate—even here at SUNY Oneonta.
Eight percent of SUNY Oneonta students are involved in recognized Greek life, according to Greek Life Director Angie Eichler. But don’t let their sliver of the pie chart deceive you; they’re a powerful group. Paying forward hundreds of hours of service to our community each year, maintaining at least a 2.5 GPA every semester, being involved in leadership opportunities outside of Greek Life and much more—the Greeks makes their presence known on our campus and in the community. By hosting a Sexual Assault Discussion Panel on Thursday evening, Alpha Phi Delta made sure their presence on campus was a positive one.
As IRC 5 was packed with Greeks and non-Greeks alike, the panel unfolded with Alpha Phi Delta President Aaron Phillips, campus professionals such as Health Educator Rebecca Harrington, Alcohol and Drugs Counselor Angie Dellapenna, Affirmative Action and Title IX Coordinator Andrew Stamel, Director of Judicial Affairs Amanda Finch and Chief of Police Daniel Chambers. Phillips asked these campus professionals how they defined sexual assault.
Harrington defined sexual assault as “anything that is sexual in nature that one of the partners involved does not want.”
Chief Chambers then followed by saying that although the definition varies by state, the State University of New York (SUNY) system has recently adopted a uniform sexual assault response policy, one of the first of its kind in the nation. All first-year and transfer students will be informed of the sexual assault policy that states:
“Affirmative consent is a clear, unambiguous, knowing, informed, and voluntary agreement between all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent is active, not passive. Silence or lack of resistance cannot be interpreted as consent. Seeking and having consent accepted is the responsibility of the person(s) initiating each specific sexual act regardless of whether the person initiating the act is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol…”
Alcohol in relation to sexual assault was another matter of importance brought to the table, since the majority of rape cases on college campuses are linked to alcohol or drugs.
“Alcohol is an aggressor. Sexual predators are more likely to be drunk and use excuses like, ‘I was drunk,’ as an excuse for their actions,” said Harrington, noting the linkage.
A member of the audience asked what students can do to combat sexual assault. Harrington took the lead and began giving examples of how students can be good bystanders. One method involved pretending to be “the obnoxious drunk,” interfering during an uncomfortable situation that has the potential to escalate to sexual assault by saying things like, “Oh my god. You’re in my COMM class. What’s our homework for Monday?”
In relation to this, a Red Card campaign will be launched in the late spring to make being a good bystander easier with a flash of a card. The idea behind the Red Card campaign is that any student can step in and flash the red card when they witness someone crossing the line sexually. A student group under the wing of Harrington will be launching the campaign to further promote a healthier, safer community at SUNY Oneonta and beyond.
When asked about the safety of our campus, in relation to sexual assault, and if the faculty has seen improvement, the answers across the table were hesitant. The Director of Judicial Affairs noted that with the increase in awareness and educational programs, there have definitely been more cases reported.
“When I see numbers increasing, that means those schools are doing their jobs,” Harrington said. The Cleary Act requires college campuses around the country to actively report drug arrests, sexual assaults and much more for public knowledge. High numbers could give schools a negative reputation or a positive one, depending how an individual looks at it; Harrington sees it as positive, due to students feeling comfortable enough with the administration to report incidents like sexual assault.
Finch concluded this topic by saying, “I will always consider sexual assault a problem. If there is one report or one-hundred reports, it’s a problem. There has been an increase in reports, but I think sexual assault on our campus has been fairly static.”
To end the panel, a variety of resources were listed to those wanting to report as well as the victims of sexual assault that want to seek help, including: Silent Witness; an anonymous police report through University Police, Violence Intervention Program, A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital and the Counseling Center.
Following the panel, I had the opportunity to ask Phillips why his fraternity sought to put on such a program.
“We wanted to put on an event that could help represent us in a more positive light on campus while helping support a healthier environment. After meeting with our advisor, we decided that with all the sexual assault allegations against fraternities over the past year, including the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin; that this topic would help to show that fraternity life at Oneonta can and should represent itself outright against sexual assault. People often view Greek Life, here, as just a separate party scene, but showing that we can all come together for such events, shows that we’re more than that.”
Efforts like this panel challenge the stereotypes that Greeks on our campus and other campuses alike are given; it is definitely a foot in the right direction.