Discouraging. Disturbing. Disrespectful. Disgusting. These are a few words used by the Committee on Student Organizations and the international fraternity Sigma Chi to describe the recent actions of UW-Madison’s chapter of the fraternity.
Sigma Chi’s members, roughly 50 of them, participated in a chant that “encouraged sexual assault” and “contributed to a culture of fear and concern,” according to the CSO.
The chant is an anthem of rape culture.
Lyrics, if they can be dignified with the term, include:
“We’re going to throw her against the wall and we’re going to fuck her, and then fuck her mother and sister. We’re going to line up 100 girls on the wall and fuck them until we have blue balls.”
To add some words to the initial list, it is triggering, dangerous, violent and not unexpected.
An assistant dean investigated the initial report and found the fraternity’s actions, though reprehensible, not unique. He stated many other groups in Greek life sang similar chants.
Despite condemnation from this investigator, the CSO—whose job it is to oversee student organizations and their violations—and later representatives from the fraternity itself, the only violations resulting in the suspension of Sigma Chi deal with alcohol.
True, by basic definition, these chants are protected under free speech, as a university spokesperson was quick to mention. However, there are instances when hiding behind the defense of free speech is not enough. The noose incident last fall proved this, context is important and when sexual assault is involved, it is invaluable.
It could be said that yelling fire in a crowded theater, the cliché example of the limitations of free speech, creates a culture of fear and concern. On a campus in which one in four women will experience sexual assault during their time here, chanting about rape is our equivalent of shouting fire.
UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone explained that “established legal principles” are the origins of the Student Organization Code of Conduct, meaning “the university can sanction speech when it meets the definition of behaviors such as harassment, discrimination, and creation of a hostile environment.”
The distinction between a “hostile environment” and “culture of fear and concern,” however, is not clear.
The only way the CSO pursued punishing the chant was through a hazing violation. Hazing only takes into account the discomfort of members participating in the activity. Since the chant was performed “voluntarily,” and it was “unclear if any of the membership considered the song to be degrading or humiliating,” according to the CSO, the chant wasn’t a violation.
It is not a violation on this campus to willingly perpetuate rape culture. It is not punishable to memorize these words and hide complicity behind brotherhood.
In the university’s initial statement about Sigma Chi’s suspension, the chant wasn’t mentioned. To the university, it was not worth mentioning. It was not worth talking about.
McGlone defended this lack of mention by explaining the statement “focused on the behavior for which the chapter was sanctioned.” She also said the university is not required to release information about suspensions, and that they were forthcoming when asked for more information.
The university is doing more than its required to, and informing students of suspensions is valuable. However, transparency loses its worth when information is edited and important details are not included. Choosing to leave out the chant left out an essential part of the conversation.
We, as students, deserve transparent administration. We deserve to know, as a form of public service announcement, that a fraternity has done something so despicable. Our Editorial Board has said it before, we’ll say it again—transparency is not just a buzzword. It is essential to our community.
If all authority voices are condemning Sigma Chi’s actions, why is there no violation? Those in charge of policing student organizations should have been able to find them in violation.
If that involves changing the Student Organization Code of Conduct, these changes need to start now.
In our campus climate, we cannot have rules in place that allow clear encouragement of sexual assault to continue. Actions like these cannot be called discouraging, disturbing, disrespectful and disgusting and still be accepted.
Beyond policy, task forces and conversations filled with jargon, it is true that we as a campus community need to talk about this behavior. But the responsibility of defining and enforcing what is wrong on campus falls to administrators.
We have only one word left: shame.
How did you respond to Sigma Chi’s chant? Do you think the university’s Student Organization Code of Conduct should be changed? Please send all comments, questions and concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.