Op/Ed: AU, IFC should examine their role in EI emails
Leaked electronic conversations between members of the unrecognized student organization Epsilon Iota (EI) – which include references to physical and sexual assault, hazing and illegal drug use, as well as misogynistic and homophobic language – have rightfully enraged the AU community. These revelations are outrageous and do not reflect the true character of AU. However, we, as a campus community, cannot be satisfied that all social issues on campus will be eliminated with the extermination of EI. EI does not exist in a vacuum, and I would like to take the opportunity to discuss how the AU community has responded to the controversy and how we can all take simple steps to combat rape culture, misogyny, homophobia and harmful illegal activity within our community moving forward.
Members of AU’s Greek community have every right to combat associations between themselves and EI. As an unrecognized organization, EI does not face external accountability or adhere to standards of conduct imposed by national organizations and AU itself. Members of the Greek community engage in admirable philanthropic endeavors and serve in countless leadership roles on campus. Needless to say, the same cannot be said for members of EI. I truly respect the Greek community and consider many of its members to be among my closest friends. Nonetheless, I am disappointed by the Greek community’s response to the controversy thus far.
AU’s Inter-fraternity Council (IFC) published an open letter – signed by IFC members and the various presidents of AU’s recognized fraternities – on April 23, in which they strongly condemn EI’s behavior. The letter blames “the university and the larger community who have failed to consistently report past transgressions” for EI’s “continued existence.” Although the letter expresses the IFC’s intention “to work with American University’s leadership to eliminate this organization,” it does not express the IFC’s intention to work to eliminate rape culture, misogyny, homophobia and other illegal activity. The letter’s condemnation of individuals for failing to “consistently report” EI’s crimes is truly shocking. Rather than seizing this opportunity to announce steps to combat these crimes, the IFC simply deflected responsibility from themselves at the expense of survivors. Physical and sexual assault are deeply personal issues that unfortunately do not lend themselves to universal reporting or swift justice. Survivors of these crimes do not deserve the blame for their classmates’ shameful behavior.
As leaders in the AU community, the IFC should engage proactively with the University’s administration and its students – including non-Greek students – in order to eliminate these harmful practices from campus. The issues of physical and sexual violence, rape culture, misogyny and homophobia exist on all college campuses – including relatively progressive campuses like our own – and the Greek community is not immune from this fact. Due to their unique role on campus, members of the Greek community have an obligation to combat these practices, and I urge them to do so immediately.
In the meantime, it is appropriate to begin a dialogue about what steps we as a community can take in order to prevent these crimes from occurring again. I would like to use this opportunity to propose some ideas about how to go about doing so. First, as many have called for, sexual assault prevention training should be mandatory for all incoming students as part of the Eagle Summit program. Second, due to the unique role of the Greek community, a mandatory supplementary training session should be required for individuals interested in rushing Greek organizations. Finally, AU should establish a permanent committee bringing together students and administrators devoted to combating sexual violence on campus. This committee should include representatives from Student Conduct, the Wellness Center, Public Safety, the Greek community, Student Government, Housing and Dining Programs and other relevant parties within the AU community.
In a few short days, I will graduate from AU. It is already disheartening that these revelations are overshadowing AU’s countless achievements at a time normally reserved for celebration. In the coming weeks, I truly hope that the entire AU community can seize upon this opportunity to take stock of the current situation, acknowledge areas where we can improve and begin implementing common sense policies that seek to prevent anything like this from happening again. We owe a serious and sobered response to ourselves, to our reputation and to the victims of these crimes.
Nicholas Blake is a senior in the School of International Service.