Greek sexual assault education focuses on prevention

Amy Hamblin

It’s more than just the herd mentality that makes Northwestern women cling together at parties, refusing to let a friend out of sight.

“I usually bring a friend to a party,” said Michelle Hirsch, a Communication freshman. “The only time I don’t feel safe is when I get separated from that friend.”

Although Hirsch said she doesn’t worry about sexual assault at parties, she still takes precautionary measures, such as using the buddy system and monitoring how much she drinks.

When a Communication freshman said several Delta Tau Delta fraternity pledges allegedly took lewd photos of her while she attended a pledge event earlier this quarter, it turned a spotlight on efforts to prevent sexual assault in the Greek system.

Sororities and fraternities make a concerted effort to educate their members about the issue of sexual assault because of the party scene. Also, because 35 percent of students participate in the Greek system, chapters can be a good avenue for informing students about sexual assault.

But some say the large group sessions currently offered aren’t always the most effective method of education.

Prior to Gone Greek Night, Hirsch attended the mandatory session for new sorority pledges on sexual assault. After sitting through the 40-minute presentation, she said she didn’t feel any better informed than before.

“The seminar didn’t address much of anything,” said Hirsch, an Alpha Phi pledge.

The Interfraternity Council held a similar seminar on the same day. For the first time, men and women had separate sessions that dealt only with sexual assault, instead of combining the lesson with alcohol education.

“It’s allowed for a serious and difficult topic to be discussed in a more manageable setting,” said Mark Manderino, area coordinator of fraternity and sorority life who helped lead the men’s session. “We were able to talk about it from the male perspective.”

Manderino said the office urged the men to be their “brother’s keeper,” meaning they should step in if they see a friend about to engage in something nonconsensual. Under Illinois law a person cannot consent when intoxicated, even if he or she verbally agrees.

NU sociology Prof. Nicola Beisel said she thinks fraternities are a good place to change men’s mentalities and normalize intervention.

“What’s interesting about fraternities is often they breed their own social codes and social norms,” said Beisel, adding that peer pressure to intervene will influence more people than seminars advocating it.

Jamie Jimenez, coordinator of the sexual assault education program, said she has been trying to bring Men Can Stop Rape, a group that educates men about sexual assault, to campus but hasn’t been able to recruit a group of men to participate. She said it’s discouraging that her efforts, including placing an ad in The Daily and asking fraternities for volunteers, have yielded no results.

Renee Redd, director of the Women’s Center, said people who have been sexually assaulted have many venues for seeking help. The Women’s Center and Counseling and Psychological Services both provide counseling and free guidance about how to proceed after an assault.

Even if victims don’t wish to press charges, Redd said it is imperative that they get help, because the pain can agonize victims even a year later when they come forward to seek counseling.

“The isolation is what does people in,” Redd said. “Human beings have an incredible ability to repress pain.”