I wrote what was supposed to be my last article last week. Upon reflection, yes, there are a lot more things that I could and should have written about, and I feel sincere regret for being unable to do so. There is one issue, though, that I cannot leave unaddressed without destroying my conscience -- it is an issue that was hugely controversial two years ago, blew up into a debate, tilted to one side as one half of the debate grew increasingly intimidated and subsequently disappeared to the point of nonexistence for students admitted post-2008.
This issue is "the Kappa Sig email". The email itself and its author, "Roscoe Jenkins" (yes, sadly but seriously, his codename), got an incredible dose of attention and scrutiny at the time of its circulation, and the other side needs the counter shout-out, loud and clear. I got this one.
I want to first preface my eventual claim with a little contextual information about Richmond's campus (then and now -- I promise, campus is the same), around which this infamous email circulated. Some of you know (and some of you, regrettably, may not know) that the national rape statistic is currently set at one out of six women -- that is, that men sexually assault an average of one out of every six women every year in America. This statistic narrows to one out of every four women on college campuses nationwide.
These are just numbers, but put it in perspective. If you are hanging out with eight girls at D-hall, two of them have been or will be victims of sexual assault. If you are in a class of 24 people, 12 of which are female, three of them are likely to be victims. If you have four very close female friends -- or, say, two close female friends and two biological sisters -- on college campuses nationwide right now (and in 2008), you can expect one of them to be a target of sexual assault, at least once. That gets a little uncomfortable right?
Well the situation is significantly worse on Richmond's campus. I'm not working with statistics on this one, but my own pretty intense experiences, which I strongly believe to be more convincing. Consider the following (names have been eliminated, including my own):
Out of eight female graduates with whom I consider myself close friends from the classes of 2007 and 2008, only one had not been the victim of attempted or completed sexual assault - and she felt the need to attribute this, when telling the story two years ago in a very casual setting, to the fact that she had an older male relative on campus.
Of the others, three were the victims of rape more than one time throughout their college career.
Rape experiences included waking up from an inebriated coma to find a man -- a "close friend," no less -- engaging in sexual intercourse with what had been her sleeping body; being locked in a room with no way out and promised exit upon "consent" to do sexual acts, which were then pushed far beyond what "consent" (if that's what it ever truly was in that perverse setting) had permitted; and being undressed and forcibly penetrated by a fraternity brother (which all of these attackers were, by the way) while in an inebriated and vulnerable state of visible nausea, even after distinctly, repetitively and clearly stating "no."
These cases are among others, but I have listed the ones that I have heard from more than one girl on this campus at one point or another throughout my four years here. All these girls suffered in psychological, physical, and/or emotional ways following their respective rapes, but did not report the incidents out of embarrassment and fear, the latter of both social and physical consequences because of backlash from their rapists.
All of their rapists consider themselves "friends" of their victims to this day. All of the rapists had been fraternity members at the times when they raped these victims and others besides.
The following are stories I have collected throughout my time at this school, from people who are my age or younger (so, still on campus). Again, this is not an exhaustive account of all I have experienced and/or heard, but it is a representative sample of the types of stories I have heard time and again from multiple female students from various grade levels. Women report feeling hands up their skirts and dresses - even inside their panty-lines - from male counterparts with whom they have danced at various lodges.
Women report being pushed physically past limitations they had vocalized for "hooking up" with male partners they had known at a wide variety of intimacy levels (including campus boyfriends).
Women report being physically held down by men upon vocalizing their hesitation to engage in one or another sexual act, some men of whom appeared to exercise this physical restraint with a nonchalant or even humorous attitude.
Women report being verbally humiliated through threats and insults (in a wide variety of tones and volumes) - even genuine confused questions - by men who expressed a desire to engage in one or another sexual act with the female, who declined in response. Threats included social and sexual punishment (i.e. "Do you ever want to come back to this lodge again?," "Come on, you don't want me to tell all my friends that you're a [insert any number of descriptive nouns]" or the two most-repeated in informal and formal interviews - "Don't make me make you, I want to stay friends" and "Go ahead, tell whoever you want. No one will believe you, you know that") and even vandalism, said to or about the victim (i.e. "I'm going to that [girl's] room and cutting up all of her stuffed animals," or "That's it - I'm keying her car").
All of these are direct quotes, as reported or overheard, with foul language and curse words eliminated; think of any number of ways to dispute that they are, but I assure you once again that I have only repeated stories that I have heard more than once, from people that I have checked and double-checked do not know or have not conversed with one another (not just about this subject, but) at all.
The only girls who appear safe from these situations are the girls that someone in one of my classes recently labeled "honorary women" of fraternities. These are the women who have ultimately decided to dedicate their social life to one - and, generally, only one, unless given direct or indicated permission by "their" fraternity members otherwise - fraternity. They are forced to treat fraternity members with much more dedication and respect than they would their girlfriends, which obviously (but I'll say it anyway) perpetuates a hierarchical system; they are also encouraged, through threat of replacement (and thus unsafe positioning relative to fraternity members) via new favorite "honorary women" or refusal to show mutual disdain towards women held in contempt by fraternity members.
These girls are generally isolated or in competition with their peers, and tend to take a leading stance on victim-blaming for "knowing the guys" that are accused. Many of them know their own traitorous position in defending rapists, but as all girls and few boys learn from an early age - "safety first." The "you can't beat 'em, so join 'em for sure" attitude endorsed by these women shows up in all women to a certain extent, and we who have engaged in "fratlife" have all felt that uneasy feeling of crossing a girlfriend in the name of an intimidating guy at one point or another throughout our college experience. As one woman reports:
"It makes me feel sick when I think about it now; all the [stuff] I knew was happening but still ignored or made fun of, and all the girls I threw under the bus to stay out of trouble with the guys I called my 'friends.' I tried to make myself believe even then that it really was girls' faults - that skimpy outfits asked for 'it,' that stupid girls deserved what they got. Then of course, it happened to me, and no one believed me, and so I gave up but I couldn't retreat. I still call them my 'friends' but now I know they're not. Is that worse, actually? I don't know...whatever....I have to stop talking about it or I really will be sick." NOTE: this girl was not inebriated in any way, and the nausea she reports is presumably the direct results of emotions the above statement triggered.
Put — and I cannot stress this enough — very mildly, the email that "Roscoe Jenkins" (the recruitment chair of Kappa Sigma fraternity) sent around to new recruits during the fall of 2008 was absolutely and irrefutably repulsive. For those of you who were fortunate enough not to receive it in your email inboxes, it made references to all of the types of above reported situations. The statements were couched in slang language, however, such that refusal to take outward encouragement of (I would argue demands for) rapist behaviors was laughed off by the student body (with the exceptions of the women - women! - who stood behind "Roscoe Jenkins" in defense against his threatened suspension) and subsequently written off by the school administration.
I know, I know - "He is the victim of his environment" and so on. But he isn't. He is a product, yes, but he has not been victimized. Not in a way that he can understand the depth of humiliation involved in real sexual victimization at the whim of his own peers, or in a way that has enabled him to understand with pain and regret as other victims share their similar experiences just how pervasive and real this problem is. Not in the way that a disproportionate number of women we all know and love have been and will continue to be.
That is a pretty widespread understanding stretched beyond the mental capacity or compassion of someone who can find humor in the word "skeeza" without clamping his or her jaw mid-laughter in recognition and sadness of the fact that there are millions of "skeezas" worldwide, nationwide, and right here on this campus who hate themselves and their bodies; that every "skeeza" stripped of her clothing and pinned to the ground once sat in front of princess movies or played with baby dolls and stuffed animals in imaginary worlds where they truly believed they were real people with real feelings worthy of someone else's love, and who face the cold realization after one or more incidents separating their bodies from their selves that they were mistaken.
Any person, male or female, who can genuinely and whole-heartedly feel like ridiculing - or even ignoring, or defending - these kinds of anti-woman, hateful (and undeniably effective) sentiments regarding male treatment of sex simply does not know what they do by so doing.
Am I angry that he is still here, suspension-free and walking with our class to collect his unblemished degree? Oh yes - there are no words to describe my outrage. On the other hand, I have to recognize the fact that he unknowingly set up a very appealing plan of action to fight exactly the rape culture he tried to perpetuate. His email highlighted the administrative apathy towards the unsettling status quo (he received no punishment of any kind, appallingly enough); even more importantly, he put that very status quo into writing better and more accessibly than anyone could have ever done before him. If we ever needed proof of a hostile environment, thanks to "Roscoe Jenkins" - we have it. As recent Yale investigations have shown us, we would be - and have been - extremely ill-advised not to use it.
This story has been UPDATED to remove the name of the author of the email, based on a prior agreement he had with The Collegian in Oct. 2008. At the time, The Collegian found the issue in question to be widespread and did not deem it appropriate to publish his name of one student. The Collegian also considered that the student had not been convicted of, or found guilty of, a crime.
The columnist's claim that the author of the email did not receive punishment is INCORRECT. The Collegian reported Nov. 13, 2008, that the University Hearing Board reprimanded the student, but did not disclose publicly the nature of the punishment.
This version also CORRECTS that the email circulated in the fall of 2008, not the spring of 2008.