All of the Greek life community needs to take a stand against sexual assault

Panhellenic Council leader Sam Russell urges Greek community, freshmen to take trainings seriously

All of the Greek life community needs to take a stand against sexual assault

Members of the fall Panhellenic Council gather for a photo. 

After joining a sorority in the spring semester of my freshman year, I had a lot of expectations about what it was going to be like: I envisioned developing close friendships, dressing up for formals and social events. I knew I wanted to work closely with my sorority's philanthropy and spend some of my free time volunteering with my sisters. However, I would have never imagined that joining a sorority would inspire me to become such a strong advocate against sexual assault on college campuses.

Yes, sexual assault happens here at American University. It’s not just something we share Facebook articles about or see on the news. It is happening here. In an effort to combat this epidemic, our campus has great programs that educate students on bystander intervention and sexual consent.

A few weeks into joining a sorority, my sisters and I were encouraged to attend a bystander intervention training. The general consensus from the people attending, including me, was that there were thousands of places we would rather be. Our training was held in the Tavern with hundreds of people sitting at tables too small for the amount of people in the room. I was seated in the back of the Tavern and could barely hear the facilitators over the low murmur of each table immersed in their own hushed conversation. After a few minutes of fighting to understand the facilitators, I turned to my friends at my table and participated in our own conversation.

Social Greek life organizations feel largely “targeted” during bystander intervention and consent trainings at AU. Members of the Greek community react by complaining and blowing off these trainings as if they are perceived as trivial and unimportant, and behave similarly to the way I did my freshman year. During my first experience with formal bystander intervention training from AU, I chose to think that I did not need it and that the information being given was not valuable to me or my friends. I was wrong.

Since that day, I have come to realize that bystander intervention and consent trainings are applicable to me. I have heard countless stories from students across campus, both members of sororities and not, about being in uncomfortable situations with an intoxicated and overly handsy person that won’t leave them alone at a party. I want to think that all students at AU will feel as though they have a responsibility to intervene in a situation where a fellow student is uncomfortable or seems to be in serious danger, but this is not the case.

I, as VP of Risk Reduction for the Panhellenic Council, believe that while sexual assault is happening within all different groups, clubs and organizations on campus, we cannot ignore what is happening within the Greek community. Our sisters and brothers are not only the victims or survivors in this crime, but they are the perpetrators too. Because we are the ones hosting and attending many of the parties where some of the campus sexual assault is happening, we all should take ownership over what is happening within our shared community. With this understanding, we have the opportunity to make sure that we are attending and hosting parties with consent culture at the forefront of every action we make.

This is possible because the Greek community at AU is a community of student leaders who are social justice minded, activists and driven in all aspects of life.

This is not something we can take lightly and this is not something that is going to happen overnight. But it is important to start this discussion. Panhellenic women, and all students, should demand that everyone feel safe if we are in a social situation with fellow AU students, both in our residence halls or out at a party. While sexual assault still may happen, it will continue to happen less frequently if we take bystander intervention and consent trainings seriously and are prepared to intervene when fellow students are in trouble.

With Welcome Week behind us, the newest freshman class at American University probably felt a bit “targeted” as well, the same way I felt in January of my freshman year. Welcome Week requires freshmen to attend programs and orientation presentations on all different kinds of topics regarding health and wellness. However, I encourage the newest freshman class to be grateful for this programming because you have chosen a campus that cares enough about its students to give you trainings like Empower AU, Step Up and other peer education.

Welcome Week is the first time that most freshmen make decisions completely for themselves. This is the time to decide if you want to be the kind of person who is going to blow off a valuable presentation or if you are going to take advantage of the opportunities our campus provides us with. This is the time for you to help to create a culture of consent by being an active bystander in your everyday life. This is your time to make a difference— what kind of actions will you choose to take?

Sam Russell is a junior in the School of International Service and is the Vice President of Risk Management for AU’s Panhellenic Council.

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