All of a sudden, college bros and the evils they do are at the center of a national media firestorm. Last week, Rolling Stone's viral story about campus rapes became the target of a lot of criticism when a central character's description of events was called into question. Although we don't yet know exactly what was misreported in the story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia, the whole mess is beginning to look like the second coming of the Duke lacrosse scandal, where bros were falsely accused of rape.
Besides doing a disservice to sexual assault victims—and convincing the UVA administration to suspend all frats until January—the Rolling Stone story led readers to believe a certain group of college dudes psychopathically gang-raped someone with a bottle, when it turns out maybe they didn't do anything wrong at all.
Naturally, the college dudes in question got pissed—they want to clear their names for good and make sure this kind of debacle doesn't happen again. They even went so far as to hire former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to lobby on their behalf.
"Congress needs to take a comprehensive approach to fixing these problems so that every case is handled in a manner that is fair, balanced and provides the full measure of constitutional protections to all parties," Lott said in a statement published by Politico. The idea he's pushing is to move sexual assault cases out of the jurisdiction of campus judicial reviews, where there is a lot of potential for inexperienced or unprepared administrators to screw things up. (Others, including Slate's Emily Yoffe, have also criticized the way rapes are handled at colleges.)
But while the current hullabaloo centers around what a few men may or may not have done at one particular school, what shouldn't get lost is that colleges—and frats in particular—can be incubators for a particularly noxious blend of hormones and privilege.
Take, for instance, San Diego State University. There have been 17 reports of sexual assault there this year, and seven of those have occurred in frat houses. An audit by the state that came out in June found the school was not handling reports of sexual assault adequately and concluded that some staff were not properly trained to handle reports of sexual violence and that the reporting process wasn't made clear to students.
Jordan Busse is a student activist at the school. She says that until recently, the school's task force for dealing with assault was comprised solely of two fraternity brothers. "There was a rape every week for three weeks in the beginning of the semester, and that went unacknowledged by our administration," she told me.
To raise awareness about this issue, students held a Take Back the Night rally on November 21. Some fraternities apparently did not take this all that seriously: Members of Sigma Phi Epsilon and Delta Sigma Phi allegedly waved dildos and yelled obscenities at marchers. In response, SDSU's student paper reported, school officials interviewed members of the frats in question and are trying to figure out exactly what happened.
"You're usually going to get two versions of everything, so we're just going to go through and hear both sides of the story," Director of Student Life and Leadership Randy Timm told the Daily Aztec. "I think a lot of it is listening to the stories, finding if the stories can be corroborated, and talking it through."
The school certainly to be taking the harassment claims seriously, and it's recently created a more inclusive task force for dealing with assault, Busse says. Still, it's going to be an uphill battle to abolish bad behavior like that of the SDSU frats. That was made clear yesterday, when an SDSU student was arrested for allegedly forcing a young woman perform oral sex on him at an off-campus party earlier this month. However flawed the criminal justice system's handling of rape cases may be, it's probably good that the cops, rather than school administrators or the media, is handling things.
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