Before starting at Penn, I was told to be careful. As a rising freshman girl, warnings from concerned adults about the rape culture that is so prevalent on university campuses superseded discussions of what classes I registered for or clubs I planned on joining.
The unfortunate truth is that freshman women are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. A 2015 from the Journal of Adolescent Health, entitled “Incapacitated and Forcible Rape of College Women: Prevalence Across the First Year,” “out of the 483 women surveyed from an unnamed private university in the northeastern U.S., 18.6% reported instances of attempted rape beginning when they arrived on campus into the following summer.”
There are things that can be done to minimize the possibility of experiencing sexual violence like sticking with trustworthy friends at parties, drinking in moderation and not leaving one’s drink unattended. But aside from worrying about being taken advantage of, there are smaller, less obvious parts of rape culture that women in college must grapple with too.
At Penn, it feels like the social scene for freshmen is very much dominated by fraternity parties, and in order to attend, girls must present themselves in a way that the fraternity brothers find attractive enough — otherwise, they face the possibility of being turned away. Additionally, should boys want to go to these parties, they must use women as their tickets for entrance — an effort to ensure that the crowd is not overwhelmingly male and there are enough girls to hook up with.
Penn must do a better job of educating freshmen on the less overt aspects of rape culture that infiltrate the social scene. More specifically, this can take the form of a more focused conversation during New Student Orientation between students and administrators on the microaggressions women face and how to deal with them.
The asks of freshman girls who wish to go to fraternity parties are not sacrifices I am willing to make. But it’s understandable for young women starting college to want to experience a large part of the social scene, and in order to do so, they have to subscribe to a culture that oppresses them.
It is unacceptable that at an Ivy League university, students are placing entrance restrictions on parties that contribute to rape culture and the objectification of women. However, this is the reality that young women in college must face, and they shouldn’t have to do so alone.
In order to combat these dangerous attitudes, Penn students can also make a more conscious effort to engage and initiate conversations surrounding rape culture, as it is not solely the responsibility of the University to cultivate an awareness of these pertinent issues. I acknowledge that some of these outlets already exist, but in order to be successful we need to ensure they are effective and inclusive enough to produce a difference.
Perhaps Penn can work to regulate the entrance restrictions on fraternity parties, but that can get complicated very quickly, particularly with organizations that are not affiliated with the University. What Penn can more easily do, however, is address these microaggressions at New Student Orientation.
During this year’s NSO, freshmen were required to attend information sessions as well as a performance by the group Speak About It on consent. But even these events failed to bring up the sexist policies that dominate entrance to fraternity parties and how to confront them.
At the beginning of college, when students are navigating and adjusting to an unfamiliar environment, the desire to fit in is overwhelming. Freshmen girls want to participate in the social scene just as much as everyone else, which is heavily dominated by fraternity parties. And to do so, they must be objectified by older students.
It is obvious that the entrance policies for fraternity parties shouldn’t exist. But they do, and Penn can’t turn a blind eye to the smaller issues embedded in rape culture.
ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a College freshman from New York. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Simonetti Says So” usually appears every other Tuesday.
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