The latest university dustup between the correct and the permissible comes at Appalachian State, where a junior on campus named Julia Grainger has blasted the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity for their plans to hold a march against sexual assault—and subsequently received a heaping of personal backlash in return.
Grainger, it should be said, didn’t do this randomly. She, along with three other undergraduate women in an anti-assault advocacy group, had been asked to give a talk at Alpha Sigma about rape and sexual assault; she has since described the experience as “degrading” and the fraternity as aggressively defensive, calling hypothetical rape cases “vengeance-seeking shit.”
So, when Alpha Sigma—perhaps understanding that they had more work to do in this department, or perhaps dutifully fulfilling a national chapter initiative in partnership with RAINN—decided to hold a march against sexual assault, Grainger wrote to the event organizers suggesting they needed more training, and that the event wouldn’t be a safe space for victims. They ignored her. Grainger then wrote a public Facebook post calling the fraternity “sexist, racist, homophobic, ignorant trash” attempting to “infiltrate victim/survivor spaces,” and questioning their “right to hold the event.”
Grainger attached social media screenshots from members of Alpha Sigma Phi, implying that individual lack of character would render group activism a sham. Here are a few:
Depending on the depth of your acquaintance with average fraternity viewpoints, these screenshots aren’t particularly surprising or (unfortunately, and in a relative sense) damning. But, as Grainger was trying to point out, these posts do not, of course, suggest a great concern with social justice. It is admittedly a pretty empty look for a frat to throw a one-off event, walk around for two hours and say they’ve “taken action against sexual assault.” (Though you could argue that any discomfort produced by this would prove exactly why these marches, or increased “frat activism,” would be necessary).
Nevertheless, it’s important to note that bad Facebook posts by a few people don’t prove disingenuousness on the part of the group; more importantly, that even a fraternity acting in full-on bad faith wouldn’t lose their “right” to do anything.
Of course, Grainger doesn’t really seem to be using this word even in a campus judicial sense, and certainly not in a legal sense. She seems to be addressing the point of whether or not it’s seemly to have a fraternity—an organization that traditionally espouses its own prerogative to do whatever it wants without oversight—participate in anti-assault work that is already covered by activist organizations on campus, with whom the frat has remained not just previously uninvolved but slightly antagonistic towards.
But it’s hard, to say the least, to make people stand down from a public display of good intentions. The (bad, basic) website Total Frat Move wrote an article about it—“Social Justice Warrior at Appalachian State Doesn’t Want Fraternity to Stand Against Sexual Assault”—in which they call Grainger’s post a “bullshit rant” and say she’s just one of those “nutjobs with a personal vendetta against Greeks” in an article that begins:
Meet the lady who doesn’t want people to spread awareness about sexual assault. She’s doing her damnedest to keep the school from marching against it — at least as long as the march is led by a fraternity. She’s seemingly clinging to the idea that all fraternity guys do is rape and pillage, because that’s what she’s learned in the media, and the media is all-knowing. It’s actually kinda sad.
Grainger responded on Facebook with another post, calling the TFM post “abhorrent.” Emphasis here is mine:
The aftermath of my post about the Alpha Sig brothers - and their refusal to acknowledge the issue at hand, the facts, the sickening comments sent to me or written about me - has me questioning my safety!! What does it leave them?? Hurt feelings!! Do you understand the difference?? Do you see & grasp the culture that’s created within greek life and hyper-masculine power structures??
In the single day that this has all occurred i’ve been called a ‘cunt’ ‘bitch’ ‘feminazi’ more times then I can count - both online and to my face. It was muttered to me walking from class to the library by a pack of frat men, it was messaged to me, it was posted on Yik-Yak, on TFM’s thread. I’ve read comments from precious fraternity men like “appstate brothers need to go take care of her” “lock her in a basement” - violent comments which were further reflected on the faces of greek men i passed today. I saw faces fill with rage, fingers twitch, and a turning of heads to whisper to friends “that’s that bitch.” These instances were not singular and I imagine tomorrow’s going to be way fucking worse! And so many these men (&women) framed me as an attention whore - so I should be okay with this!!
When greek life members refuse to educate themselves or try to comprehend the complexity of the the problems that permeate within their organizations, they’re a part of the problem. They’re not a part of the “not all frats!!” message so fervently cried out.
And I won’t feel bad for ‘generalizing’ fraternities. My post did not equal oppression. It did not put these men’s lives at risk. It did not do anything besides exemplify the problems within greek life.
There are lots of tricky issues here! There’s this question of what words are equal to oppression, what words constitute silencing, what generalization sounds like, if generalization matters when it’s in service of safety; who can be trusted to raise the social justice banner and who can’t and who gets to decide in the first place (probably no one); and, of course, when any of this serves social justice systematically and when it does not.
Grainger is correct that her post calling the frat “sexist, racist, homophobic, ignorant trash” did not, indeed, put the frat’s lives at risk. The people calling her “cunt, bitch, feminazi” are also not putting her life at risk either. (Reading online comments that she needs to be “lock[ed] in a basement” and “taken care of” comes much closer to physical threat, and would doubtlessly be very scary to read as a young woman.)
But: “oppression” is a word worth looking at very closely here. The way larger historical social dynamics affect college campuses has up till fairly recently been neat—vectors of power passing unaltered through the little glass box of the university. Today, those vectors are refracting and skewing; there are bulletin boards, for example, at Appalachian State pointing out “cis privilege,” and at liberal schools you can get kicked out of a course for rape-sympathetic dissent. Who is more powerful on a college campus in 2015—the white feminist, or the white frat boy? I’d guess the latter almost always, but the former, as this case shows, is very fully voiced.
Grainger has written a response letter detailing and explaining her original reaction:
Before I tell you the (abbreviated) story I want you to know, even though many of you find this hard to believe, I don’t hate all men and I don’t hate all fraternity men. I think there are good fraternity men, and even a few in Alpha Sigma. But ultimately, being silent to their brothers’ actions is consenting to their brothers’ actions. Whether actively dehumanizing or supporting the dehumanization of women while alternatively demanding respect further justifies that fraternity men should not be ‘advocating’ for anyone on our campus.
Rachel has already written about the panel given to Alpha Sigma, but I must repeat: in late February she, I, and three other women were on a panel for Alpha Sigma to talk about rape and sexual assault. It was not an experience that I, or any of the other women, would want to go through again. We went in calm, with a presentation that we had worked on for over 7 hours. We walked out feeling degraded and unheard. We were only able to get through a small portion of the presentation because with every word out of our mouths we were met with defensive protests. Your ‘good’ fraternity men, your ‘best friends’, ‘upstanding gentlemen’, used phrases like ‘vengeance seeking shit’ (when talking about a woman’s rape case!!!) and ‘they’d just bitch about it’ (when talking about you!!!).
Sure, that sounds bad; they sound like shitheads. She adds:
I don’t feel bad for [my post] and I won’t apologize for it ESPECIALLY given that I’m still finding out about more things on their (and other fraternity men’s) Facebook and Twitter pages and hearing stories of sexual harassment and assault shared with me about these men.
That sounds even worse. However, even the worst shithead can “march against sexual assault.” It’s difficult—let’s say, impossible—to regulate bad looks. And the march happened last Sunday, 9 to 11 a.m., and if the event description is correct, it was silent.
Photo via Emory Maiden/Flickr.
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