Four months after a leaked email from off-campus organization OZ was posted around campus with the caption, “THIS IS WHAT RAPE CULTURE LOOKS LIKE,” it is not clear that much has changed with regard to the organization’s social life.
Last semester, more than 900 members of affiliated sororities and unaffiliated all-female groups signed an open letter condemning the “offensive and sexist” email which contained lines such as: “We’re looking for the fun ones / and say f**k off to a tease.” News outlets including The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Cosmopolitan wrote stories about the incident, and in November, the University announced the formation of a task force to address the “negative influence” of unaffiliated groups.
Despite all the protests and activism in reaction, not much has apparently changed for OZ.
College senior and former President of Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault Sam Summer said that the incident seems to have “fizzled out,” not unlike what happened in 2014 after fraternity Phi Delta Theta posted a Christmas card with a dark-skinned blow-up doll.
“There were protests and everything, but after a few weeks, sororities were mixing with them again and it was back to normal,” he said.
College sophomore and member of Chi Omega Alex Johnson agreed.
“Penn does self-identify as a Greek school, so as a result, I do think fraternities are imbued with a little more of a protective layer,” she said. She also agreed with another point that Summer said: Sororities at Penn have a lot of power in determining the status of social organizations.
Johnson said she has been assured that Chi Omega would not be organizing joint events with OZ anytime soon.
“It is on sororities, fraternities and really anyone who participates in Greek life to show through the power of absence that you don’t stand for this and you don’t show up for it.”
Another student who wanted to be identified only as a leader of a Panhellenic sorority said that to her knowledge, most sororities on campus are still “reluctant” and “uninterested” in having events with OZ. While her sorority is currently planning an event with the off-campus organization, an executive decision was made to limit participation to “very few members” of the sorority.
“The prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses is so high,” she said, “[so] it is really important that members of my sorority feel safe.”
Two weeks ago, The Daily Pennsylvanian received a tip that sorority Delta Delta Delta organized an event with OZ on Saturday, Jan 14. A student who recently became a member of the sorority originally agreed to confirm this, but later cancelled arrangements for an interview after consulting with another sister. Five other members of Tri Delt did not respond to requests for comment.
Their silence is not unique. Seven of the eight sororities in the Panhellenic Council declined or did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
The aforementioned affiliated sorority leader said that the OZ incident is still “contentious” among women involved in Greek life.
“The people who felt attacked by the email feel very strongly about it,” she said, “but there are also a lot of girls who are friends with some individuals in OZ, so it’s hard to make generalized statements.”
College junior, Panhellenic Council President and Chi Omega member Caroline Ohlson said interacting with OZ is a “personal choice” for sororities, who “should be allowed to put themselves in the social spaces they are comfortable in.”
She said that while she believes the 1,500 women involved in Greek life at Penn should “use their social influence to stand up for what they care about,” she added that it is not the sole responsibility of women, nor of Greek institutions alone, to tackle rape culture on campus.
Last semester, MARS attempted to reach out to OZ several times but was not successful. The group, which organizes educational workshops for fraternities under the Interfraternity Council, found that it was difficult to engage with an off-campus organization — particularly, when they felt like they were under attack.
“We were all very outraged,” Summer said, “And I don’t think as a campus we did a good job of saying ‘We know not all of you think that — here is a chance for you to change.’”
Other sources affiliated with OZ also said that the organization was internally “very conflicted,” but The DP reached out to 28 alleged members of OZ who did not respond to requests for comment.
“I am slow to say that women who feel marginalized or victimized should have to worry about feeling too strongly so as not to turn away those who hurt them,” Ohlson said, “but I also think it is important to invite OZ to the table.”
Summer said he thinks there is a “huge disconnect” at Penn between the people affected by the kind of language used in the OZ email and the people using that language. He added that he thinks common ground can only be found if both sides are willing to engage and challenge their own convictions in the process.
Greek leaders said they are hopeful that OZ will start by joining the conversation.
“If they can’t make a public acknowledgement, I’d encourage them to at least reach out to their female friends and discuss the issue,” the leader of a Panhellenic sorority said.
Johnson added that it is also on other fraternities to publicly state that they do not condone rape culture.
“I wish that the political will from the email had sustained itself,” she said, “but I think now, it is really on all of us to make sure that these issues stay in the conversation.”
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