On Feb. 7, Northwestern University issued a statement announcing an investigation after four students alleged they were given date rape drugs and two alleged sexual assaults at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house.
The press release included several details pertaining to its ongoing investigation, including the name of the fraternity allegedly involved in the incident and a timeline of the investigation.
“On February 2, 2017, the Sexual Harassment Prevention Office received a report that on January 21, 2017, four female students attending an event at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house in Evanston were possibly given a date-rape drug,” the Northwestern announcement read. “The report alleges that two of the students believe they were also sexually assaulted.”
The statement garnered swift reactions from students and the national headquarters for Sigma Alpha Epsilon. The reported that SAE at Northwestern University has been suspended by the fraternity’s national organization, and the university’s Interfraternity Council has halted the social activities of all fraternities.
Northwestern students also signed a petition advocating for someone in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life to supervise the fraternity while it underwent suspension and for SAE to be dissolved if any of its members were found culpable for the alleged crimes, according to The Daily Northwestern.
That’s what happened at Northwestern. But what would happen if Penn were to find itself in such a circumstance?
In an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian, University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy said Penn values the privacy of the alleged perpetrators when determining what information to release to the public, especially when an investigation has not concluded.
“The University uses all reasonable and appropriate strategies to investigate complaints of sexual violence, whether the allegations involve individuals or groups,” MacCarthy said. “All parties to a complaint have privacy interests of which we are respectful — especially during an investigation in which there has not been a finding of responsibility for violating University policy.”
MacCarthy highlighted the breadth of resources available to victims of sexual assault.
“Penn has a robust set of educational initiatives in place to inform students, faculty, and staff of the resources available to provide information and support or to investigate complaints of sexual violence, relationship violence or stalking,” MacCarthy said. “We urge anyone with questions or concerns to contact one of the University’s confidential resources if they have questions or concerns, or the University’s Title IX Officer.”
Director of Sexual Violence Prevention Jessica Mertz cannot recall an incident at Penn like the one that occurred at Northwestern. If placed in a similar situation, Mertz said she would focus on engaging students in conversation about the incident and sexual assault prevention.
“The role we might play is being there to help offer space to facilitate discussion if there’s anything that students want to talk about or if there’s questions that come up,” Mertz said. “We can try and partner with other groups on campus to offer opportunities. Firstly, to talk about what’s happening, how they’re feeling, what it means for them both in terms of prevention and response.”
Mertz hopes that the entire community becomes involved in stopping sexual assault so that an incident like the one at Northwestern doesn’t happen on Penn’s campus.
“There’s not necessarily just a perpetrator and survivor in the scenario,” Mertz said. “There’s other people who may witness an incident, but they also are in a position to support a survivor afterward.”
“We want to broaden the conversation and get students to recognize that it’s a cultural problem or community problem that needs a community solution,” she said.