Masoom: ‘True Gentlemen’ shouldn’t shirk accountability

Sumaia Masoom, Op-Ed Contributor

As a survivor, I was offended on a fundamental level by Mike Seethaler and his fellow “True Gentlemen” — as the Sigma Alpha Epsilon creed anoints its members — when they deliberately obstructed the Associated Student Government Senate’s resolution on sexual assault accountability last week.

The Interfraternity Council representative and three alternates decided to walk out of an ASG Senate meeting, forcing a resolution condemning sexual assault on our campus to be tabled due to lack of numbers to constitute a quorum. Two of the alternates represented IFC, one substituted for PHA and all four were members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at NU.

I am angry, but I’m not naive. In my brief stint as one of ASG’s co-vice presidents for student life and during the two years prior when I attended Senate sessions related to causes I was passionate about, I learned a lot about the way the system works.

I learned enough to be fairly certain that this occurrence was no accident.

ASG Senate procedure calls for resolutions to be presented at least a week before they are voted on, as this resolution was, and Senate Speaker Nehaarika Mulukutla followed procedure by sending Senators an agenda prior to the meeting that included a reminder that the resolution would be voted on. The idea that any senator or substitute senator would then voluntarily show up to a meeting without any idea that they may be put in a position where they “did not feel comfortable attaching their name to such a serious vote,” as Seethaler’s flimsy excuse for the walkout holds, is absurd.

By walking out on a resolution that calls for more accountability on the campus-wide sexual assault epidemic, the “True Gentlemen” in question — who voluntarily came to Senate that night — proved they do not stand with survivors.

The fact that these individuals say they have received death threats is alarming, and as someone who frequently receives email death and rape threats because of my writing, I sympathize. But I would also like to remind them of their privilege. As scary as it is knowing people are angry at you, having to walk around on campus knowing that an entire institution is harboring your attacker is scarier. I would encourage these men to consider the reason that people are angry at them as well, and to consider that their actions in refusing to hold their organization accountable perpetuates victim-blaming narratives that promote rape culture. Their ability to walk away from an uncomfortable conversation about sexual assault does not extinguish the painful reality of rape and sexual assault that my fellow survivors and I will continue to live with every day for the rest of our lives.

I formally resigned from ASG in the fall because I recognized I needed to step back and focus instead on my mental health. I realized the irony of my position as an advocate struggling to objectively tackle the issue of sexual assault on campus because I had not taken adequate time to let myself process and heal from my own assault. ASG Senate now has to do some self-evaluation of its own. Until it recognizes the detriment of both its abysmal attendance rate — a small voting bloc leaving should never have been able to break quorum in the first place — and also its function to not just pad a resume but to have real effects on fellow students even as a largely symbolic body, it will continue to be a toxic space on this campus.

I will not accept that Seethaler and his “True Gentlemen” refused to condemn the culture of violence and fundamental invalidation of survivor narratives. I ask my friends in IFC to join me and the other survivors on this campus. Please take cues from the survivors in your life and the members of your executive board and choose to hold your brothers accountable. Do not underestimate your ability to counter the dangerous culture festering within your institutions. Your silence speaks volumes, but so too can your willingness to speak up.

I urge anyone uncomfortable with the resolution to give it a close reading and take special note of the fact that it does not call for the immediate removal of SAE, which I’ve realized through many conversations with friends in IFC is a common misconception. Rather, the resolution calls on the University specifically to follow SAE’s national headquarters and IFC’s executive board’s example and suspend SAE’s formal activities until further investigation. The IFC executive board has even publicly endorsed the resolution.

To the other survivors on this campus: I hear you. I see you. I believe you. I am here for you. You are strong, and your pain is valid.

I would like to thank ASG President Christina Cilento, executive vice president Macs Vinson, Speaker Nehaarika Mulukutla, as well as all of the resolution’s authors and sponsors for actually standing with survivors. I do not wish to speak on behalf of all survivors, but to me personally, your allyship means more than you know.

Sumaia  Masoom is a SESP junior. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.