There’s been no shortage of outrage, from petitions to public statements, over the recent policy changes regarding social events at Penn. Clearly the implementation of event monitors and new social event guidelines has not sat well with a very vocal section of our undergraduate population. In fact, so much focus has been placed on the changes to Penn’s policies, it’s easy to forget what set those changes in motion in the first place — the now infamous OZ email.

For those new students who aren’t familiar, the OZ email was a message sent last year from an off-campus fraternity, OZ, to freshmen girls at Penn. It included some sexist language and became a symbol of “rape culture” on campus. After the email gained traction, a task force was formed to “foster a campus climate and culture that is free of sexual harassment and sexual violence, alcohol and other substance abuse.And now, only one semester after the task force released its recommendations, Penn has made serious changes to its event policies.

I apologize if you’re already familiar with that history, but I think it’s important to realize how significantly the conversation has shifted in less than a year. The new policy changes represent one of the most aggressive attempts by the administration to shape social life at Penn in recent memory. And yet, the majority of what Penn is implementing doesn’t seem to address the very issue that students themselves originally chose to rally around — Penn’s pervasive culture of sexual violence.

Of course, this change in focus is by no means new. Even though the task force was charged with fostering a culture free of sexual harassment and violence, those issues were not once mentioned in its list of recommendations. Instead the recommendations — much like the recent social event policy changes — seem focused on regulating Greek life and Penn’s drinking culture. Even as someone who deplores Penn’s fraternity scene, I can't help but think that this paternalistic approach is misguided and worse, it obfuscates the bigger issue of sexual violence.

If, however, the administration believes that its new policy changes will actually alleviate the culture of sexual violence that the task force was originally assigned to address, then there may be even more reason to criticize their approach. 

To get a better sense of how Penn’s social event policy changes will actually address this issue, I spoke with the chair of Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention and the Panhellenic Council President, College senior Caroline Ohlson. 

“I think it’s really important to recognize that party culture and rape culture are two separate issues and that it’s important not to present it as if cutting back on drinking is going to cut back on sexual assault,” Ohlson said. “I think that we have to be very careful not to promote a victim-blaming culture.”

Rather than focusing on regulating Penn’s party culture, Ohlson stressed the importance of educational initiatives for combating sexual violence. And to its credit, Penn has recently made an effort to improve its educational resources. The creation of the Anti-Violence Engagement Network — a program to help student groups create a safer campus culture —  is a positive step in that direction and the administration should be commended for it.

However the creation of AVEN seems far less impressive when put into the greater context of Penn’s recent policy changes. When compared to the implementation of event monitors and restrictive alcohol policies, this initiative is clearly the less aggressive of the bunch, which shows the unfortunate state of Penn’s priorities. And given that only five out of Penn’s 27 fraternities completed all IFC mandated education programs, an increased focus on the importance of educational initiatives is undoubtedly needed. 

By shifting its focus from sexual assault to alcohol abuse and hazing, the administration has unfortunately redirected our attention away from the issue that matters most.

Now, instead of writing open letters critiquing fraternity culture and demanding that we hold each other accountable, students are crafting petitions that inanely correlate event closures with suicide. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to see that Penn students are voicing their concerns over changes in event policy and, on the whole, I think they’re right to do so. But the fact that what started as a movement to end rape culture, especially among fraternities, has now been replaced by a movement to protect frat parties, shows how far afield this debate has gotten.

If the administration, and we as Penn students, are truly determined to make this community safer for all of its members, then the first step is to recenter the conversation around the issue of sexual violence.

CAMERON DICHTER is a College senior from Philadelphia, studying English. His email address is camd@sas.upenn.edu. “Real Talk” usually appears every other Monday.

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