A panel intended to discuss gender segregation and sororities and fraternities erupted into a heated debate on rape culture in Greek letter societies. “Feminist Fraternity and Sorority Chat,” held at Carleton University on Mar. 9 during Greek Week, was met with hostile disruptions and remarks from some members of Carleton’s Greek letter organizations.
The audience was respectful during the presentations of three panel speakers: Lauren Joseph, assistant professor at Penn State University; MacAndrew Clarke, public affairs councillor for the Carleton University Students’ Association; and Margot Challborn, spokesperson for the Coalition for a Carleton Sexual Assault Centre.
However, during the discussion, some audience members “became very loud and aggressive” and banged on tables, according to co-organizer Layla Cameron, a third-year journalism and human rights student.
“These behaviours just reinforced the stereotypes held about Greek letter organizations,” said co-organizer Bethany Thompson-Chase, a second-year women and gender studies student.
Cameron and Thompson-Chase organized the event as part of a women’s studies course in Activism, Feminism and Social Justice. Professor Donna Johnson and the course’s teaching assistants provided support.
While recognizing the benefits of Greek letter organizations, the organizers said they sought to explore the issues that arise in these organizations and to propose alternatives. A siblinghood collective, an alternative to the current sorority and fraternity structures, “would be founded on feminist principles of equality, education and mentoring, and solidarity,” according to Thompson-Chase.
During the event, tensions escalated after Cameron read a letter by a member of the University of South Carolina’s Kappa Sigma fraternity, which also has a chapter at Carleton University. The letter stated that women were inferior to men and labelled them “targets.” It outlined a glossary of terms to describe men and women and their body parts, categorized women by race and attractiveness, and identified which “sorostitutes” are “more inclined to put out.”
Cameron wanted to use the letter’s misogynistic language and promotion of sexual violence to highlight elements of rape culture prevalent on campuses.
Some Carleton fraternity members demanded an immediate apology, stating the discussion projected a negative image of them. They argued that many fraternities and sororities engage in campaigns to end violence against women.
Thompson-Chase attributes much of the audience’s aggressive behaviour to a certain mob mentality.
“It felt as though it was us against the Greek organizations,” she said, when the intent was to engage in “a collective critique of institutions” that “promote exclusion and elitism.”
Comments posted on the Facebook event page were generally critical of the discussion panel, and some personally threatened Cameron.
A comment piece written by the two organizers received several derogatory, anti-woman responses on the Charlatan website.
One post stated, “I hope a guy walks in on you in the shower at the gym, and they [sic] he can tell you how he feels he is being discriminated against for not being allowed in the women’s washroom. I guarantee you will be hypocritically angry.”
The post was a response to Cameron’s proposal for a siblinghood collective.
Someone else wrote online, “Makes me shake my head knowing we gave women the right to vote.”
Another online comment referred to the organizers as “femi-nazis.”
Nearly 100 people attended the event. The room reached full capacity, and people had to be turned away at the door. Several fraternities and sororities had mobilized their members to attend.
This article originally appeared in the April 2011 edition of The Leveller.