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Credit: Carson Kahoe

More than 900 members of affiliated sororities and unaffiliated all-female groups signed an open letter on Sunday lambasting an “overarching culture” of misogyny within fraternities and other predominantly male groups.

The letter (which can be read here), addressed “to all complicit in rape culture at the University of Pennsylvania” and including signatures of women from 17 affiliated sororities, off-campus organizations, co-ed fraternities and multicultural groups, described a pervasive reality at campuses nationwide that “targets women and brands them as inferiors, or simply objects for the male gaze.”

Not all signees noted their group affiliation because sorority chapters can be disciplined by their national organization if they make statements not approved by their national chapter, multiple Greek-affiliated women said in interviews with The Daily Pennsylvanian.

The plan to publish the letter and decide on its final wording came about in a meeting on Sept. 9 of about 30 representatives from every Panhellenic sorority, unaffiliated groups and some multicultural organizations, as well as the protesters who spearheaded the flyering of campus last week with copies of a salacious email apparently sent by off-campus organization OZ and intended for freshman women, according to multiple sources present at the meeting who described it for the DP.

The Aug. 31 email took the form of a poem inviting freshman women to attend one of OZ’s “Wild Wednesdays” parties and contained lines that protesters said implied coercive sex, such as “We’re looking for the fun ones/And say f—k off to a tease” and “Tonight is your first showing/So please wear something tight.”

After a firestorm of media attention last week around the email, which attracted condemnations from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and actor Ashton Kutcher, the open letter extends the conversation beyond just the actions of the off-campus group to indict affiliated fraternities as well.

“Smaller scale and interpersonal incidents have become warning tales to new freshmen, shared between sorority members to brace themselves against past and unspoken incidents of rape, sexual violence, and sexual misconduct by men at Penn, disproportionately occurring in fraternities,” the letter read.

Part rallying cry to men and younger women on campus, the letter also made a symbolic statement in unifying unaffiliated, affiliated and multicultural all-female groups.

“I hope we foster a dialogue between multicultural groups and largely white sororities,” said College junior Ngozi Olojede, a member of an off-campus, all-female organization who individually signed the letter. “That’s a dialogue that needs to happen.”

In an early response to the “Wild Wednesdays” email, members of affiliated and unaffiliated sororities left group chats shared with OZ members. The letter said, in no uncertain terms, that continued disengagement may continue.

“Our membership and history of engaging with affiliated and non-affiliated fraternities is absolutely not guaranteed,” it stated. “The center of Greek life has traditionally revolved around male dominated spaces, but, as sorority members, we reserve the right to rescind all communications and involvement with groups, specifically fraternities, that we believe to not uphold our utmost respect as equals.”

Signees were quick to point out that real change, however, cannot occur without productive dialogue between OZ, on-campus fraternities and women across campus. 

"It’s really important that we don’t villainize individuals or individual groups because that will just shut them down from forward thinking," said College senior Morgan Pearlman, a member of off-campus organization OAX who did not speak on behalf of the group.

In response to the open letter, Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum praised the protesters in a statement sent to the DP.

“I salute all Penn women — indeed, all Penn students — who have chosen to make their voices and choices heard so clearly and compellingly!” the vice provost said. “Nothing, nothing, nothing is as powerful, poignant, and preventative as eloquent peer speech against the speech of other Penn peers whose speech they find abhorrent, reprehensible, and vile.”

Protesters said future statements and activism will center around policy ideas to enable greater safety and respect for women on campus, including enabling affiliated sororities to host parties and ending the practice of “ratios” to gain admittance to fraternity parties. Progress on those issues will involve conversations with University administrators — some of whom have already reached out to start a dialogue with the protesters — and with national chapters.

That message, said College junior and affiliated sorority member Olivia Chao also not on behalf of her organization, will be held accountable by women refusing to socially engage with fraternities who do not comply.

“If you enforce the ratio, we’re not going to come in. We’re not going to attend your party. We don’t agree with it,” she said. 

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