Theta Is Taking Action to Combat Sexual Assault

Category: Fraternity

Laura Ware Doerre

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that for every 1,000 women attending a college or university in the United States, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year (compiled from a 2005 report by the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice). This statistic is appalling and is finally receiving the attention it deserves. As part of our efforts to help combat this problem, member groups of the National Panhellenic Conference—including Kappa Alpha Theta—endorse the Safe Campus Act and Fair Campus Act of 2015, which were both introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on July 29.

Institutions of higher education (IHEs) have a responsibility to ensure that all students can live, study, and thrive in a safe and secure environment. But sexual violence allegations on college campuses raise issues that are specific to the fraternity and sorority community. And as values-based organizations and leaders on our campuses, we have a higher calling to promote student development and a positive campus culture.

The Safe Campus Act and the Fair Campus Act provide unprecedented protections to all student victims affected by sexual violence on campus. They are comprehensive in scope, resulting from months of collaboration among leaders of men’s and women’s fraternities, in consultation with a wide array of subject-matter experts, including law enforcement officials and victims’ rights advocates. Their purposes are multi-faceted:

  • Require IHEs to provide sexual violence education and prevention, including reporting, bystander intervention, alcohol use and abuse, and fostering development of healthy interpersonal relationships.
  • Ensure victim safety and security protections by requiring IHEs to devote appropriate resources for the care, support, and guidance of students affected by sexual violence, including prescribing specific sets of options for reporting and victim care strategies.
  • Remove perpetrators of sexual violence from both our campuses and their surrounding communities.
  • Maintain our rights to freedom of association, and preserve the network of support we provide to victims, by preventing IHEs from punishing student organizations, such as fraternities and sororities and their members, without a hearing and due process protections.
  • Reaffirm our right to exist as single-sex organizations.
  • Allow volunteer advisors to student organizations, including our advisory boards, to maintain their traditional role in preserving campus safety by preventing their designation as campus security authorities.

The Safe Campus Act and Fair Campus Act also present a significant opportunity to showcase the value of the membership experience we provide as a leading source of leadership and personal development for college women. Media coverage regarding this initiative has been largely positive (such as this op-ed piece by a San Francisco Chronicle columnist)—a nice change from the trend of the past year. And more to the point, we have an opportunity to play an important role in providing peer-to-peer education regarding sexual violence.

Let’s be clear. The ultimate goal is to make this conversation moot. That’s why initiatives related to prevention of sexual assault and sexual misconduct are listed first above. I am proud that Theta has a long tradition of offering not only support for survivors of sexual misconduct and sexual violence, but also a commitment to engaging members in prevention and intervention efforts. Through our award-winning Sisters Supporting Sisters initiative, we connect members to a comprehensive program of educational resources addressing interpersonal violence, healthy relationships and communication, emotional well-being, and more. Appreciating that each college campus possesses its own unique culture, we also encourage our chapters to partner with their host institutions to develop programming that meets the needs of their individual campuses. Our education and leadership personnel will continue to work with chapters and among themselves to ensure that we are delivering value through best-in-class programming.

And finally, I would like to encourage everyone, particularly our college women, to join us in a social media campaign. The first six weeks on a college campus are known as the “Red Zone.” During the “Red Zone,” students, especially first and sometimes second-year students, are at the highest risk of experiencing sexual violence (as compared to the rest of the academic year). Kappa Alpha Theta is participating in NPC’s social media campaign from Aug. 17- Sept. 25, during which we will create awareness about the “Red Zone” as well as other campus safety concerns. We encourage you to share, repost, or retweet our messages, or to create your own. (Remember to tag Theta!) The more awareness we create about the “Red Zone,” the safer women will be on campuses throughout the U.S. and Canada.