Closson: All men must work to end sexual assault, not just those in Greek Life

Troy Closson, Opinion Editor

During last winter break, I was eating dinner with my parents when they asked if I was going to join a fraternity. Despite my dad’s hopes I’d be a member of his National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, I said I wouldn’t and they jokingly asked if I was joining a “white fraternity” instead. I answered them honestly: very quickly after arriving on campus, I realized I wouldn’t be joining an Interfraternity Council chapter.

While people said fraternities provided “community,” I never fully felt that included people who look like me — fraternities were after all, largely built on racism. I’d go to the frat quad and rarely see other black students. I heard IFC president Rodney Orr was black, but reading the Black Student Experience Task Force report’s data that only 2.1 percent of IFC members at the time were black still made me feel uncomfortable. So as time went on, I associated myself with campus fraternities less and less.

When the University announced reports of multiple sexual assaults and druggings at Sigma Alpha Epsilon and another unnamed fraternity last February, I was appalled. But beyond that, because I felt far removed from IFC myself, I wasn’t sure what to do.

Fast forward to this month. As an Opinion Editor, I was thankful when we received Margaux MacColl’s column about men’s role in allowing sexual assault and harassment. Not just because we as men need to confront this, but because it helped me put my uncertainty from eight months ago in perspective.

I often feel uncomfortable in fraternity houses because I’m black. And in no way does this attempt to compare to how these spaces can make women feel. But understanding this has been a point of empathy.

As I thought about writing this column, I initially told myself I shouldn’t be writing this, that it “wasn’t my place to speak up for women as if they don’t have a voice themselves.” Then I re-evaluated that in the context of my own identity.

When Chase Reed wrote about the group of men who mocked A&O’s N-word announcement, I never felt like he assumed black people couldn’t speak for themselves. Instead, I appreciated that he wrote it. As a black student, it’s exhausting to be the one to address every racist elephant in the room. Margaux’s column echoed the same message: when men don’t speak up, we’re complicit. I’m sure it’s exhausting for women to feel like they’re the only ones who actually care about these issues too.

Women shouldn’t be the only ones who speak up about preventing sexual assault. Taking a stand against rape culture is just as much — if not more — men’s responsibility. Yes, organizations like Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault exist and involve men, but on a larger scale, these conversations are left to women. As Harvey Weinstein’s actions came to light, over 50 female celebrities spoke about their experiences; men largely remained silent.

For me, it’s easy to focus on how I’m impacted by my own identities. Whenever controversies regarding race and ethnicity arise, I easily relate. I feel compelled to say something. But in the past, when issues occured that affect others with target identities, I haven’t worked hard enough to understand and empathize with what they feel. That has to change.

Men: If we’re going to work to challenge these issues, we can’t focus on our own problems alone — regardless of whatever other identities we hold. To anyone whom I failed to support because I didn’t understand my role in preventing assault, I apologize. I understand that it’s exhausting to feel relegated to speaking up on issues because no one else seems to care. And I hear you.

Troy Closson is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted 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.