blackmendiscusssexualviolence
Photo: Yosef Robele

Men of color from Penn and Drexel University gathered in the Hall of Flags in Houston Hall on Oct. 11 to discuss sexual assault and how to work against it. 

The event, titled "We Need to Talk: Black Men Discuss Sexual Violence," was organized by Penn Intercultural Greek Council fraternities Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi and Omega Psi Phi, with support from Penn Violence Prevention and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life. 

Omega Psi Phi includes members from Penn, Drexel, St. Joseph’s University and La Salle University. 

Omega Psi Phi President and Drexel senior Michael Burton said about 30 Penn and Drexel students attended the event. 

Alpha Phi Alpha President and Engineering senior Wesley Pennycooke explained that "elders" from the black community — such as OFSL Director Eddie Banks-Crosson, PVP Associate Director Malik Washington and Director of Makuu, Penn's black cultural center, Brian Peterson — provided questions for the attendees to discuss. 

“People were sharing a lot; people were vulnerable, and most importantly, people were listening," Washington said of the event.

Penn administrators emphasized the importance of these conversations among people of color. 

“As a person of color, I’m not always confident that we come to the table or we actually think that this stuff applies," Banks-Crosson said. "I think it’s important to say it absolutely applies. Where are the spaces that we feel comfortable to talk about these things?”

Washington added that oftentimes, discussions about sexual assault focus on white fraternities. 

"We know that it is happening outside of that culture," he said, "So we wanted a conversation that was unique to this community.”

Pennycooke said he and the fellow chapter presidents decided to host this discussion after a session about violence prevention during a mandatory senior leadership retreat. They reached out to OFSL and PVP to include additional perspectives in the conversation.

Wharton senior and Kappa Alpha Psi member Carl Leacock said one of the main takeaways of the event were the active bystander strategies that encourage intervention in risky scenarios.

Burton said some of the discussion was “elementary,” such as the conversation they had on the distinction between right and wrong. But other topics were not so straightforward. Examples include the conversation they had on party scenarios and how “to dance or socialize with women … in a way that is not only effective, but at the same time, makes them feel comfortable and not blindsided.” 

He explained that this is an important discussion because, at his fraternity, a large number of social situations involved physical interaction, such as dancing, and drinking alcohol — a combination that could carry the potential for sexual assault. 

Pennycooke said the group also discussed accountability and the notion that attendees should relay insights from the event to their friends who were not present, to help conquer the taboo around the subject of sexual assault. 

Though there are not yet concrete plans for future conversation forums, the event's organizers said Wednesday's discussion was the first of many. 

“We can’t fit everything into two hours, and we knew that," Pennycooke said. "Whether it would be a continuation, another topic or bringing more people into the conversation, that is definitely to come."

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