Last month, Penn students joined millions of protesters as part of nationwide Women’s Marches, making an incredible statement against sexism. We commend the participants of these marches, but we implore students to use these protests as an opportunity to revisit issues on our own campus, to channel this level of intensity and energy into tangible fixes within our own community.
Last semester, campus was shaken by sexually aggressive emails sent to Penn women from off-campus organization OZ that included crass phrases 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.” The organization’s action was swiftly criticized; the administration condemned the email, the president of the Interfraternity Council said "the IFC does not condone rape culture or any kind of peer pressure” and, most notably, over 900 members of affiliated sororities and unaffiliated all-female groups signed a powerful open letter rebuking the email as part of “an overarching culture on college campuses across the country which targets women and brands them as inferiors, or simply objects for the male gaze.”
In September, the DP wrote that it “commends those who took action to disrupt the culture of making new students feel compelled to act in a predetermined way during their time at Penn.” We continue to commend the positive work that has come out of this horrible event, such as the creation of feminist art collective We Are Watching. We are also glad to see that, according to an anonymously quoted Panhellenic sorority leader, that most sororities on campus are still “reluctant” and “uninterested” in having events with OZ.
However, we are troubled by two findings in a recent article about developments in the OZ situation. One was that OZ did not engage with the group Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault after the group reached out last semester. The other consisted of indications given by some sorority members, that their organizations were still planning joint events with OZ. As former MARS president Sam Summer said in an interview, the incident seems to have “fizzled out.” We are similarly skeptical that groups like OZ now, as the open letter stated, “uphold [women’s] utmost respect as equals.”
Rape culture — by which we mean an atmosphere that creates gender inequality in a way that puts women at higher risk of sexual violence — is just as much a plague on our campus as it was six months ago. These issues will never be solved if we do not hold offenders accountable. We are discouraged by the apparent lack of behavioral change from the Penn community, which expressed enthusiastic outrage in the fall over the group’s attitude toward women but then has taken no effective steps to pressure those who contribute to rape culture.
Far too often, campus has erupted into outrage over an issue and then moved on, leaving only a minority of activists to actually drive change. In 2014, the Phi Delta Theta holiday photo controversy became a national story, but months later, conversation surrounding race on campus “fizzled out” in campus dialogue — just as it has after the awful GroupMe incident of last semester. We’ve had countless reasons to make mental health a major focus on campus, yet it seems like only groups concerned with mental health make the issue a priority.
Issues do not need to fizzle out. Positive cultural change is possible. The Women’s March has the potential to be the beginning of a movement against sexist attitudes nationwide. Our ask is that we all as Penn students hold ourselves and our peers accountable to ensuring that that movement continues here.