Bienasz: University must extend SAE suspension after continued recruitment

Gabrielle Bienasz, Op-Ed Contributor

I won’t forget the moment I stopped feeling safe on this campus.

I was walking along the Lakefill and looked down at my phone to see this email:

“On February 2, 2017, the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office received a report that on January 21, 2017, four female students attending an event at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house in Evanston were possibly given a date-rape drug. The report alleges that two of the students believe they were also sexually assaulted.”

There are few people whose lives are not affected by sexual assault and harassment — even indirectly. This is true of me, too. I suffered from secondary post-traumatic stress disorder (also known as vicarious trauma) in high school after multiple friends shared their experiences of sexual violence with me. These stories made me determined to fight the problem in college.

Thus, I applied to Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators after arriving on campus. The conversations I’ve had through the group have been some of the most rewarding and painful moments of my life, and absolutely of my time at NU.

I decided to continue this activism as the Associated Student Government senator for SHAPE, Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault and College Feminists.

Last February, four SAE members walked out of Senate, delaying our vote on a resolution I co-authored to promote accountability for sexual assault. The next week, I told Senate “I am not going to stop fighting for survivors.”

I intend to keep that promise. So, listen up NU: SAE’s suspension must be extended. Even if the University decided not to pursue disciplinary action on account of the allegations, the chapter appears to be wholly unaware of the severity of sexual assault allegations and the definition of “suspension” altogether.

The Interfraternity Council published a statement last week ceasing recognition of SAE until 2021 because of its “unbecoming actions” and continued recruitment activities.

SAE’s continued recruitment shows a clear disregard for the pain of survivors throughout campus in the wake of the allegations last year, a blatant sense of superiority over University rules and a complete lack of concern for the wellbeing of other students.

Do SAE members care about how unsafe students may have felt after February’s email? Their recent actions show they do not. Do those members care about their impact — on survivors and nonsurvivors alike — on our campus? No, they apparently don’t, otherwise they would not have recruited.

This nonchalance about sexual violence shouldn’t surprise us. It was apparent even last year in the Senate walkout. If these chapter members cared, the serious nature of sexual assault allegations would have been enough to compel them to stay in their seats during Senate and vote, with their names recorded.

The members of SAE continued to display this devil-may-care attitude with their recruitment activities this fall.

Thus, SAE is unworthy of a spot on our campus. If the members were unaffected by the outpouring of emotion in ASG and in the speak-out last year, I don’t imagine much will change their attitudes. I don’t believe their organization deserves to officially re-enter an on-campus house in 2018 as if nothing happened.

When they return, their suspension, already a farce, will be inconsequential, consigned to history as no more than a blip in the long storied power and privilege “entrenched” in fraternities. It will be a joke.

I don’t think Northwestern students deserve that.

And, despite its best intentions, IFC is not enough to keep students safe. As the Panhellenic Association said in a Facebook statement, IFC’s decision to derecognize SAE until 2021 could arguably create a more dangerous environment for students. As PHA points out, SAE’s members won’t be subject to the same educational requirements, recruitment supervision and overall regulation as other chapters when coming back to campus in September 2018.

Further, PHA’s statement suggested that new students might find “this unregulated space exciting.” With this, we worsen the already-grave problem of vulnerable first-year students experiencing sexual assault.

The University has stated that SAE’s chapter will be allowed to return to campus in September 2018 if it “successfully completes its suspension.”

Does “successfully” entail informally recruiting new members and holding unofficial events? Is that a “completed” suspension, or is that a defied suspension?

I am disgusted. Instead of showing the appropriate level of internal reform, apology and humility in the wake of the pain they caused on campus — the pain that inspired, for example, a wrenchingly emotional speak-out on behalf of survivors — the members of SAE flouted their punishment.

I hereby call on the University, after an appropriate investigation into IFC’s information on the chapter’s continued informal recruitment activities and other events, to extend SAE’s suspension.

Clearly, the message was not received.

Gabrielle Bienasz is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, 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.