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Friday, March 24, 2023
A UW-Madison student told police she is concerned she was sexually assaulted at a fraternity house on Langdon Street.

A UW-Madison student told police she is concerned she was sexually assaulted at a fraternity house on Langdon Street.

Faced with disproportionate rates of assault, efforts focus on Greek life, residence halls

Following a 2015 survey that revealed high rates of sexual assault at UW-Madison—particularly in residence halls and Greek houses—campus groups have been working to build prevention programs aimed at reducing these numbers.

This programming aims to reach a significant portion of the campus population, as 90 percent of freshman choose to live in university housing and approximately 13 percent of undergraduates are members of the Greek community.

University Health Services, UW Housing and Greek councils are working to combat sexual assault before it occurs through education and legislation.

First-year students receive double dose of preventative measures

In the fall of 2016, UHS held the first educational sessions they created for first-year students. The workshops were made in response to results from a national survey, which said the current program that teaches incoming students about sexual and dating violence—a 90-minute online course called Tonight—is useful, but not enough to end violence.

Sam Johnson, a violence prevention specialist with UHS’ End Violence on Campus unit, said it was recommended they expand educational programming by utilizing a “multi-dose strategy.”

“There are some diseases or illnesses that are so wide in scope you need your first vaccination to inoculate you, but, in some instances, you’re going to need a booster shot,” Johnson said. “This is the same idea that we draw from public health models, that sufficient dosage is important. You can’t just expect to solve a problem in a one-and-done program.”

The Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct suggest additional programming requires all first-year and transfer students under the age of roughly 25 to participate in in-person, peer-facilitated workshops within their first semester at UW-Madison. Students can choose from four programs in the GetWIse series: DatingWIse, SexWIse, ListenWIse and YouWIse.

Participants have the option to complete the requirement in a large scale setting at Student Orientation, Advising and Registration. However, Johnson said most will attend sessions in groups of 15-20 students, many of which are held in residence halls.

“The data on campus suggest that between 90 to 95 percent of first year students live in housing, so to us [hosting sessions in residence halls] made the most sense to [be] the most accessible to the largest number of students,” Johnson said.

Assistant Director of Residence Life Amanda Thwing said the WIse workshops have given students a space to talk about and question personal topics.

“Overall, I would say that the workshops that we host have been great at getting people to talk about a topic that is often uncomfortable,” Thwing said. “After both the Tonight online program and the in-person program, I believe, students are better prepared with information and resources around sexual assault, dating and domestic violence and stalking.”

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UHS offers another sexual assault prevention program for athletes and members of the Greek community called Green Dot. It is used by other schools and purchased by UHS, not created by them like WIse was. Johnson said Green Dot also differs from the WIse workshops in that it skips over definitions and is more skills-based.

“We select Green Dot for Greek students and athletes because they are a built-in community with each other,” Johnson said. “We know those who have a shared sense of community and belonging and shared values, they may be in a stage that they’re more ready to learn those skills together.”

Green Dot, like the WIse workshops, are conducted in-person and are based on audience participation. All new members of Greek life are required to complete it within their first year in a chapter. These are not always facilitated by a UHS staff member—anyone that becomes Green Dot certified after participating in a four-day training can lead sessions.

Greek councils are encouraging senior members of the community to receive Green Dot certification in order to be peer mentors for new members, according to Dan Goldfield, the former chief justice of the interfraternity council and an original member of the Greek Life Task Force.

Greek life works to prevent sexual violence through new community standards

About a year and a half ago, the Greek Life Task Force was formed after Chancellor Rebecca Blank challenged members of the Greek community to respond to the AAU survey.

Members of the Greek executive board formed the risk management team, which branched into different groups, one of which focuses specifically on sexual and gender-based violence. Goldfield and other members of this group at this time began drafting bylaws to solidify the Greek community's stance on these issues, and provide a “how-to guide” for how to handle situations, according to Goldfield.

“[The bylaws] address this issue on our campus, in our community. We are really trying to be proactive and give chapters resources and everything they need,” Goldfield said. “We have proactive measures, reactive measures, educational mechanisms, accountability mechanisms. It looks to address the problem from a very wide scope.”

There are four sections of the bylaws, according President of the Interfraternity Council Michael Foy. The first two define sexual assault and provide legal terms for what is considered an offense. Foy said it also goes beyond legal definitions and explains “conduct that is unbecoming” of Greek members, meaning chapters can still be punished for behaviors that may not be considered illegal. The third portion discusses reporting and offers tools for doing so. The final section lists requirements for Greek members, including the Green Dot workshops.

The bylaws will also require a safety and wellness chair within each chapter. This member will serve as a source of support for their Greek brothers or sisters; they will “break down the barriers of reporting,” according to Chief Justice of the Panhellenic Association Madeleine Haberman.

Additionally, the bylaws serve as a guide for Greek chapters under investigation for those reasons mentioned. It instructs them how to be “forthcoming” and work with investigators.

Haberman said the bylaws make it clear what the Greek community deems as unacceptable, not only regarding sexual and gender-based violence, but discussing discrimination and sexual harassment as well.

The legislation specifies what behaviors are acceptable, including what language can be used in songs, and also mentions dating violence. This would allow the Greek governing board to issue punishments for occurrences not protected by the Student Organization Code of Conduct.

UW-Madison’s chapter of the Sigma Chi fraternity was reported earlier this year for reciting an explicit chant. Approximately 50 members of the chapter were heard chanting about a woman, saying “throw her against the wall,” followed by “line up 100 girls on the wall” and proceed to have sex with them. The committee that heard the case said it “encouraged sexual assault,” according to UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone.

Sigma Chi was suspended earlier this year, but there was no mention of the chant in the university’s announcement.

Goldfield said in instances such as this, they have gone one step further than university administration has with the bylaw changes.

“We look at instances about free speech concerns which the university has some limitations on what they can do,” Goldfield said. “The bylaws specifically mention things like social songs and says these are not welcome in our community. We acknowledge that the university can’t step in all the time, but we're still going to.”

The bylaws have been passed through the legal department at UW-Madison and the Division of Student Life, and have now been given to each of the four Greek governing councils. They have been passed by the Panhellenic Association and IFC, but the Multicultural Greek Council and National Pan-Hellenic Council are still in the process of deciding.

Foy said the bylaws are the first step to ending sexual violence. He said he would love it if, after following through with the regulations, Greek houses—specifically fraternity houses—would be the safest places on campus.

“This could be a situation where [sexual violence] goes to zero in our community, and we aren’t going to stop until it gets to that point,” Foy said. “Having these discussions, these measures in place … there’s no gray. There’s what we deem as acceptable, and what we deem as unacceptable. We'll hold ourselves to a higher standard.”

UPDATE March 15, 1:41 p.m.: This article was updated to correctly label Madeleine Haberman as Chief Justice of the Panehellenic Association, not President. 

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