Allegations of ‘sexual harassment’ at fraternity event continue

Posted on Apr 18 2016 - 1:44am by Logan Kirkland

“Is it true that a DG goes down faster than an anchor?”

“Which Sigma Chi would you go down on?”

Abby Bruce, a sorority member and participant in the crowd at Sigma Chi Fraternity’s philanthropy event, Derby Days,  said she began to feel uncomfortable.

“Which would you prefer at breakfast? A sausage patty, a sausage link or a Sigma Chi?”

Disgusted, Bruce said she left and spoke to other sorority members who were also offended by the sexually-charged questions sorority representatives were asked in front of a large audience. She knew that she needed to say something that night.

“We were all talking about how unacceptable that behavior was and everyone was just completely ashamed and humiliated that I talked to,” Bruce said. “I just thought that something needs to be done and people need to be aware that it is okay to speak out.”

Bruce said women are afraid to speak up because insensitive comments have been made for so long that it has somehow become excusable behavior. She said members are going in with the mentality of “Oh, that’s just how Derby Days is.”

Derby Days is Sigma Chi’s annual philanthropy event. This year’s efforts support Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson. The event is a competition between campus sororities involving mini-contests like a blood drive, Instagram challenge, dance competition and more. Members in the crowd at the dance competition consisted of sorority and fraternity members, their parents, along with patients and the patients’ parents from the children’s hospital.

“It’s just overwhelming that something like that can happen,” Bruce said. “I think this event epitomizes the problems we have on this campus regarding the roles of women but I don’t think this is the sole case of that.”

Bruce said she understands this does not reflect every member in Sigma Chi, and she understands the money it raises is for charity but said this behavior is now reinforcing a broken system where people are “doing something bad in the name of something good.”

Clay Wooley, president of Sigma Chi Fraternity, said the comments made at this Derby Days dance competition were wrong and the fraternity didn’t do enough to stop it.

“Those things never should have been said,” Wooley said. “Putting it in the category of rape culture, though, that is extreme. It’s supposed to be done out of innuendo and fun but it got carried away this year and shouldn’t have taken place at all. But if anyone feels like it was encouraging rape culture, I would encourage them to reach out to me and let me know.”

Wooley said Sigma Chi is already doing everything in their power to put the focus back on the women because the fraternity cannot do these events without sorority members.

He said the fraternity was not representing itself or the University in the right way in that regard, but core reason for the event is charity.

“We achieved our goal. We raised 1,000 units of blood and over $25,000 for the children’s hospital. That is something that’s too important to push to the side because of one really, really bad moment,” Wooley said. “Mississippi Blood Services has come to depend on us. You can actually count the numbers of lives saved.”

Wooley said, after discussing  the issues of what happened with Bruce, he wants to shift the focus more towards the women participating in these events.

Wooley said the fraternity is working with Rebels Against Sexual Assault to hold a seminar for their members.

Due to the ongoing investigations, representatives of Sigma Chi said they are not able to speak directly about any individuals. Sigma Chi representatives said preliminary disciplinary action has been taken.

Sara Beth Childers, a member of Kappa Delta sorority, said the fraternity is not forcing members to dress a certain way or to answer questions with certain answers.

“Honestly, just because they’re having a men’s club kind of humor shouldn’t take away the fact that what they’re doing is really good,” Childers said. “They should be respectful but don’t take away the great work that they do. Everybody’s become so feminist that they can’t take anything lightly. I think that she was aiming at them when it should have been aimed at the sororities individually.”

Sororities are sending emails to members not allowing them to speak to media or making other social media posts because Panhellenic wants to make a “united front” on this issue. Bruce said this censorship is causing a riff in the sorority sphere.

“It makes it where even women are telling women not to speak out about injustices they see, because they don’t have the authority to do so,” Bruce said.

One sorority member who chose to remain anonymous, said a sorority requesting its members not to speak up for themselves perpetuates of this kind of behavior.

“It’s scary how some people are, even some girls, are defending the way they treated them saying that they’re using the philanthropy as a guise for them acting like this,” the source said. “I think that it makes it worse. They’re turning a blind eye to the problem. They’re just defending their friends. It’s very concerning to me when women try and silence other women about being treated like this.”

The source said the treatment of the comments made at Derby Days are indicative of something bigger.

“I think that that mirrors sexual assault in real life. That’s how a lot of sexual assaults occur. There’s a girl, she’s not sure what to do,” the source said. “She doesn’t want to refuse, she doesn’t want a guy not to like her. She doesn’t want a whole group of boys ostracizing her for just speaking out against something that’s not okay. I think that is a little concerning for people I go to school with and some people that I consider my friends.”

Another sorority member who chose to remain anonymous said the Associated Student Body President Austin Powell was in the crowd, and the fact that he did not speak out against these comments was frightening. The source said, if she did not know him, it would cast a negative light on the University.

“How scared would I be that Ole Miss and the student body president shared the values of this event? Because the values on display at this event weren’t anything I’d want to be apart of,” the source said. “I’d be scared to report a rape, because I would be like, ‘Well the student body president was a Sigma Chi and he was at this thing and he obviously didn’t get up there and stop and take the microphone.’”

Lori Hendrix, a sorority member who attended the event, said this is only embracing rape culture. She said the culture of the Greek system needs to be restructured and people don’t need to be afraid of that change.

“I think Sigma Chi men know that what they said was more than sexually suggestive- it was sexually-aggressive language,” Hendrix said. “Some of the remarks were so sexually-aggressive, they made my skin crawl and other girls leave the event crying.”

Hendrix said it is disappointing to see the men of Sigma Chi discourage women for respecting themselves and speaking out, rather than taking personal responsibility and discouraging men from using their platform as an intimidation tool.

Hendrix said there could have been rape victims at the event.

Hendrix said the chapter members on display at the event should respect not only women, but themselves and their own Sigma Chi brothers enough to hold themselves to higher standards.

“I am not ashamed that I am speaking out. I am not ashamed that I expect myself and my sisters to be treated with respect, and I am not ashamed that I believe women are more than their sexuality,” Hendrix said.

Hendrix said she is sure the emcees at the event didn’t think what they did was wrong because they’ve never been told how uncomfortable it makes women feel before. She said they are being told that women left the event crying, but they point to the ones who didn’t as if that proves something.

Hendrix said it is important to look at the 1,100+ shares that one post of our discussion has. She said it proves there’s more women –and men, and members of both the Greek and Ole Miss community – that feel this way.

Hendrix said she knew not all of Sigma Chi was represented by the speakers.

“I’m sure they have nice people,” Hendrix said. “I’m sure they have gentlemen. But where the hell were they?”