Old Dominion University (ODU) in Virginia is receiving national attention for a fraternity’s vulgar and offensive signs that were on display as first-year students moved into their dorms.
The signs, which were hung on fraternity Sigma Nu and displayed derogatory messages for incoming female students- and their mothers- have since been removed, and the University has promised disciplinary action. They read “Rowdy and fun/ Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time,” “Freshman daughter drop off,” with an arrow pointing to Sigma Nu’s front door, and finally, “Go ahead and drop off mom too.”
The University and national fraternity representatives were quick to respond. “This incident will be reviewed immediately by those on campus empowered to do so. Any student found to have violated the code of conduct will be subject to disciplinary action,” a statement from ODU President John Broderick read. The Sigma Nu national fraternity has already suspended the ODU Sigma Nu chapter, and ODU student government released a statement saying the incident “does not reflect the University’s commitment to the prevention of Sexual Assault and Dating Violence. Not only do these actions taken by a few individuals undermine the countless efforts at Old Dominion University to prevent sexual assault, they are also unwelcoming, offensive, and unacceptable.”
Signs like these undoubtedly feed into what is known as “rape culture.” Rape culture is a complex set of beliefs that create an environment in which sexual violence is prevalent, normalized, and sometimes encouraged. It is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language- like calling a woman entering college “baby girl”- objectification of bodies, and glamorization of violence, usually against women. Behaviors associated with rape culture include victim-blaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, or refusing to acknowledge the harm of sexual assault.
A further break-down of the messaging of these Sigma Nu signs also shows a concerning notion of consent. “A good time” is a clear reference to sexual activity, and “hope your baby girl is ready” implies that this activity is going to happen- regardless of whether she wants it or not.
It has been widely proven that first-year students, specifically first-year women, are particularly vulnerable to rape and sexual assault on college campuses. The first six weeks of school have been termed the “red zone” by experts to refer to the time when there is an increased risk of victimization for female students.
Fraternities in particular have been under national scrutiny for accusations of rape and sexual assault, and neglect on the behalf of colleges to act accordingly. The Hunting Ground, an unprecedented documentary that premiered this year, details the campus rape epidemic and the stories of many survivors of campus rape and sexual assault in their fight for justice.
Just this year, a Yale University fraternity was banned from conducting on-campus activities until August 2016 as a result of violating the university’s sexual misconduct code. Similarly, the University of Virginia announced in January new regulations to prevent sexual assault and enhance safety on campus, and required all organizations to sign onto new regulations. Two fraternities, however, announced that they would refuse to sign the new regulations. More recently, a Penn State fraternity was suspended for creating a private Facebook page with photos of nude women, some of whom appeared to be unconscious. And as of yesterday, male students at Ohio State University flew similarly offensive flags targeting incoming female students.
The Feminist Majority Foundation’s Feminist Campus has a comprehensive toolkit and other resources for students interested in combating rape culture and preventing college sexual assault.
Media Resources: Jezebel 8/24/15; 8/25/15; Norfolk VA Fox 8/24/15; Raw Story 8/24/15; Philly Voice 4/7/15; Feminist Newswire 1/16/15; 3/17/15;