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Monday, December 29, 2014

December 29, 2014: End of Year Stories: Fraternity Rapes

[While I don’t consistently cover current events in this space, I do try when I can to connect the histories, stories, and issues on which I focus to our contemporary moment. But sometimes it’s important to flip that script, and to contextualize some of those contemporary connections. So this week, I’ll do that with five ongoing American stories. I’d love to hear your thoughts, on them and on any other current stories!]
On the tragic and horrifying story that puts two of my earlier posts in a very different light.
You don’t have to have grown up in Charlottesville or have a parent who teaches at the University of Virginia (and many friends who attended the university as well) to have been deeply affected by the unfolding coverage of both recent and longstanding stories of sexual assault in UVa’s fraternities and campus community—but those personal connections have only added another layer to my horror, sadness, and anger at reading and following those stories. As I write this in late November, the university has suspended all fraternity activites until at least early January, so it’s fair to say that this story will continue to unfold into the new year. But it also has made me rethink a couple of my own blog posts from a Cville-inspired series earlier this fall.
In the first of that week’s posts, I highlighted some of the striking and even shocking stories of student misbehavior in the early days of Mr. Jefferson’s University, making the case that current critiques of student excesses fail to recognize how much such issues have been a part of college communities and life for centuries. That may well be the case, but what does it mean when it comes to these horrific stories of campus sexual violence (which are of course not at all unique to Virginia’s campus)? Are we to think (as the initial Rolling Stone story on Virginia, linked above under “at reading and following,” argued) that such violence has been part of the campus community and its fraternity system for at least decades, if not indeed centuries? Has it gotten worse in recent years, as depicted in many narratives of college party life and hookup cultures? I don’t pretend to know (and as always welcome your thoughts and perspectives in comments), but it does seem clear that there are pressing contemporary reasons to think about the histories of our college campuses and communities.
In the last of that week’s Cville posts, I engaged with an issue that relates closely to Virginia’s fraternity system: the culture of hazing, and how we understand and analyze it. In that post I tried to sympathize with the subjects of such hazings, noting that I had been one myself in high school. But any argument that those subjects are victims is hugely complicated, indeed contradicted, by one of the most horrific details of the Rolling Stone story—that in the case of the young woman at the heart of that story, her gang rape represented precisely such a hazing ritual, one in which the hazed subjects participated in sexually assaulting her (including in one case with a bottle). Whatever we think about peer pressure and its related effects, it’s impossible for me to imagine any scenario in which a rapist isn’t entirely culpable for his actions—and it’s important for me to make clear that my nuanced post and overall position on hazing doesn’t in any way mitigate these students’ culpability for such behavior and crimes.
Next current story tomorrow,

PS. What do you think? Other current events you’d highlight?

PPS. As I'm sure most readers will already know, the UVa story has taken a striking turn since I wrote this post, with Rolling Stone's semi-retraction of their original story. That development certainly indicates that the story will continue to unfold--but does not, I would argue, change the broader points with which I'm engaged in this post (if it does of course impact specific details, such as whether that story's protagonist was gang-raped as part of a hazing ritual).

1 comment:

  1. “December 29, 2014: End of the year stories: Fraternity Rapes”
    “…I highlighted some of the striking and even shocking stories of student misbehavior...”

    Hello Ben and fellow bloggers. Happy New Year. In my blog response today, I want to highlight a different kind of college fraternity story – not to give fraternities (or anybody else, for that matter) an excuse to misbehave, but - instead - to hopefully give some insights into the positive qualities that these young college men can have when they work together – something you don’t hear too much about, nowadays.

    Fall of 1986; matriculated to Worcester Polytechnic Institute; Worcester, Massachusetts. Majoring in Physics; minoring in Music. Like so many other new students just coming out of high school, experiencing a lot of pressures and mixed emotions and stress in the new environment. Found myself seeking out the comraderie of the Fraternity organization: Specifically, Tau Kappa Epsilon, Zeta Mu chapter. (Now, I’m not gonna lie and say they didn’t drink or party or anything like that… but I found that they had much more to offer than just that as an organization for a lone young man, like myself).

    Fall of 1987 things had gotten really bad for me, psychologically. Had already been hospitalized psychiatrically once; and - on this particular night - I had come dangerously close to committing suicide by throwing myself in from an 18-wheeler on the highway (luckily a policeman spotted me, and took me home to the apartment that I was sharing… with two of my fraternity brothers).

    The guys knew I was having major trouble, but weren’t sure how to best help me. I remember Pete K. and Dave W. slowly walking me up to the fraternity house the next morning (I didn’t sleep all night), and I was so delusional that I thought the fraternity brothers were going to take me down into the basement and torture me. Nothing could be further from the truth, however: They got me to the psychiatric ward at the UMMC Hospital in Worcester, and even stayed with me for a little while while I was being admitted.

    The moral in all this? I can't speak to every case... no one can. And, though I never graduated with a formal WPI Physics college degree, I learned a lot about people reaching out and helping other people; no matter how big or how complicated the problems were.

    This is some lyrics from a song I wrote about my experience at TKE zm fraternity at WPI.
    The song is called Blood Brothers. I hope you like it:

    Verse 3
    They say we’re no good: They don’t understand.
    I always know where I can find a friend.
    When you need shelter, and people shut their doors…
    My brothers are around… Where are yours?

    Roland A. Gibson, Jr.
    IDIS Major, FSU
    January 1, 2015