It started when a disturbingly graphic story published in The Rolling Stone depicted the alleged gang rape of a young woman at a University of Virginia fraternity party.
It was reinforced upon the suspension of the Pennsylvania State University’s Kappa Delta Rho chapter after the discovery of an intra-fraternity Facebook page distributing nude photos of seemingly unaware female students, appearing either asleep or unconscious.
Nationwide, Greek life suffered intense scrutiny and criticism for its pervasive instances of sexual assault. Some called for the total elimination of the Greek system as a solution.
Others saw it as an opportunity to begin enacting widespread reform.
Zachary Anstett, a senior English major at this university and a brother of Alpha Sigma Phi, was among those in charge of Wednesday’s Sit Down to Stand Up for Sexual Assault Event, held outside of the Stamp Student Union’s Nyumburu Cultural Center, the headquarters of one of the major driving forces behind last November’s Ferguson verdict sit-in protest at Stamp.
“When looking at a venue, we wanted something that was open and that would attract attention,” Anstett said. “We didn’t want to have it on Fraternity Row, because who would see it besides those who live in Leonardtown and other Greeks?”
Aiming to raise awareness and open campus-wide discourse on the issue, the sit-down event lasted from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., featured an open microphone for various guest speakers and student attendants to share their opinions and personal stories and sought to include the entire school community. The occasion drew a crowd of some 520 students, Greek and non-Greek alike, Anstett said. Each Greek chapter affiliated with this university was encouraged to send representatives, and over 35 of them did so throughout the day, Anstett said.
Despite its outreach to and widespread attendance by this university’s Greeks, the event was not exclusive to Greek students, Anstett said.
“This is not a Greek event,” Anstett said. “Sexual assault is an issue in Greek life, but also an issue that pervades all.”
Anstett, Alpha Sigma Phi’s community service chair, began planning the function last semester, well before news of a troubling email denouncing consensual sex written by a member of this university’s chapter of Kappa Sigma made national headlines.
“I was hearing about what had happened at Penn State and in Rolling Stone and I said ‘hey, we need to do something, because this isn’t us,’” Anstett said.
From there, he said he focused on planning an event that not only addressed the “severity” of sexual assault on college campuses, but also provided a “safe space for opening discussion and dialogue” and supplied a showcase of on-campus and local resources including Title 9, C.A.R.E, and UMDfeminists.
“Sexual assault is a civil rights issue,” Anstett said.
He also said it deserves to be treated as such. Many in attendance, Anstett included, agree that a macro-level cultural adjustment is essential to successfully combating this issue.
“This isn’t a Greek life problem. Our culture is wrong,” said Emily Quinn, a sophomore government and politics major at this university and risk manager for her sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha. “It’s scary that we as a generation allow these things to happen.”
Co-sponsoring the event, the sisters of Zeta Tau Alpha recognized an opportunity to address a campus-wide concern in what they perceived as a step toward healing and positive change.
“We’ve had girls in our chapter who have opened up and shared their stories with each other. We jumped on board because it personally affects our chapter,” Quinn said.
Other chapters looked to the event as a simple but effective way to unite.
“It’s a good cause. Before this event, Greek life didn’t have any big events that addressed this issue,” said Zack Pelczar, a junior materials science and engineering major and president of Maryland’s Delta Sigma Phi chapter.
Fellow Delta Sigma Phi member Zain Shamim, a junior economics and accounting major, encouraged his fraternity brothers to attend the sit-down in order to better educate themselves and to help counter Greek life’s exclusive reputation.
“Greeks do a lot of good things. I myself just volunteered at a soup kitchen for four hours [with Delta Sigma Phi],” he said. “It’s only the bad things that get attention.”
But Anstett hopes to capitalize on these horrors as a means of advocating for lasting campus-wide improvement.
“These instances are [carried out by] small proportions of the community,” he said. “But this event is about what the majority of Greeks stand for.”
Anstett said he believes that staging similar events in the future and extending the invitation to all sports teams, clubs and student organizations will promote effective reform.
“Through adversity comes opportunity,” he said.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story the caption of the first picture incorrectly indicated that more than 600 students from Greek life attended the event. The correct figure is “more than 500.” Students not involved in Greek life also attended.
Also, the caption for the picture of Zachary Anstett was incorrect. It initially said that he coordinated the Panhellenic Association’s first Sit Down to Stand Up event. The event was actually coordinated across organizations.
Hallie Miller is a freshman broadcast journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.