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Carol Muske-Dukes

Carol Muske-Dukes

Posted: March 25, 2011 10:38 AM

Who Investigates the Investigators?


Women on college campuses are tired. They are tired of seeing that Same Old Enormity dressed up in its frat tie and colors, communicating in secret code re women as objects of ridicule and sexual predation. "An investigation has been launched" and "We hear your voice" -- has an insulting recherché ring to it when it is offered in response to this Invisible Enormity. Always investigated, rarely realistically addressed.

It seems clear that the goals of women's rights and the furthering of the Greek system, (fraternities on campus) remain at odds. As long as this brotherhood, which perpetuates stereotypical misogynist images of women (and exploits these images in social and political contexts) continues to defend itself without changing -- we remain in the waiting room listening to the same old "P.A. system".

Here, below, is a petition signed by over 120 graduate students and faculty at the University of Southern California -- an attempt to "Take Back the Night" -- the demand for a true and transparent inquiry into the present and past violations of women's right to safety and dignity -- set in motion by a scandalous letter sent to members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity -- a letter inciting young men, among other things, to acknowledge that there is a difference between "rape" and "nonconsensual sex" and to act upon this knowledge. (Please check the link at Jezebel, as well as the graduate students' blog on the subject.)

Here is the petition -- which has 120 signatories as of this date.


March 14, 2011

To the President's Office:

On March 8, we were made aware of the email allegedly being circulated by the USC chapter of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity when it appeared in national news outlets. Many of us were forwarded the article on the issue on jezebel.com by friends and colleagues outside the university.

That the reprehensible views of women and people of color propagated in the email casts the entire university community in a negative light goes without saying, but what compels us to write today is an even more serious issue. Amid the various hateful statements the author makes, he encourages his fellow fraternity brothers to use drugs and alcohol to incapacitate the women they date, telling these young men that "Non-consent and rape are two different things." This statement goes beyond hate speech; it is an incitement to sexual violence. What was most shocking about the article was that the USC administration has announced that they will not conduct an investigation of the author, or the organization involved in disseminating this email until the national fraternity has completed its own internal investigation.

Some of us, in our daily interactions with undergraduate students at USC as graduate instructors, have had female undergraduates express confusion, anxiety and fear about the prevalent threat of sexual violence at Greek events on and near the USC campus, and have described dismissive treatment by the USC officials from whom they seek help. Others of us have faced recalcitrance from the administration when reporting hate speech against women in our own classrooms. Despite the many exemplary men and women involved with the Greek system at USC, this public embarrassment has revealed both the presence of a culture of sexual violence within the Greek system at USC, and that system's failure to eradicate that culture on its own. While this atmosphere of animosity toward women is certainly not unique to USC, failing to respond to such an overt catalyst for discussion of these issues would be a disservice to the university. We believe that USC must take action in the wake of this event to achieve four goals:

1) A full and transparent investigation, led by the administration rather than a Greek undergraduate organization, of the author of the email (if he is indeed a USC student -- contrary to the findings of the IFC, recent published reports have suggested that he may be), the individuals involved in disseminating it, and the organization to which they belong.

2) Appropriate disciplinary action being taken against the individuals and organization involved in the production of this incitement to sexual violence, including the issuance of a formal apology to the university community from the fraternity to which the author belonged.

3) The creation of a university-wide forum for the discussion of how hate speech against women and sexual violence is reported and investigated on campus.

4) The issuance of a statement from the administration to the university community condemning the statements made in the email and clarifying avenues of redress available to the targets of hate speech and the victims of sexual violence within the university community.

We look forward to opening the dialogue on this important issue.

Graduate students and faculty aren't the only voices calling for action. Corey Arterian, a student at USC, is organizing with fellow undergraduates in response to the email. Arterian writes, "We are in the early stages right now, but we plan on writing our own petition with specific requests for action and recognition on behalf of the university. We also hope to put up posters around campus and the neighborhood directly surrounding campus to encourage thoughtful evaluations of the email and how dangerous its message really is. It's in its early stages, but the fact that a group has come together and continues to grow is a great sign for progress."