Instead of being perceived as part of the problem, Boulder’s fraternities want to be part of the solution when it comes to addressing campus sexual violence.
The fraternities, which are not affiliated with the University of Colorado, have asked campus experts to lead them through a tailored training on how to recognize and intervene in a situation that could lead to sexual assault.
It’s a topic that’s been gaining more and more national attention in recent months with help from the White House, student activists and documentary filmmakers. More than 100 colleges and universities, including CU-Boulder, are under investigation by the U.S. education department for their handling of sexual violence complaints.
Often, fraternities are blamed for creating a environment where sexual harassment and sexual assault are permitted or even encouraged, said Kevin Zell, president of the Interfraternity Council.
Zell wants to make it clear to those inside and outside of Boulder’s fraternity community that sexual assault is not tolerated.
He also wants to provide fraternity members with tools and skills that will help them better navigate potentially difficult situations involving sex, alcohol and other factors.
“I just really want us to be part of the solution,” said Zell, a CU junior studying finance. “Obviously we can’t prevent everything from happening, but it definitely helps to get people educated and hopefully we can eliminate some of the problems.”
All 16 Boulder fraternity chapters this semester are going through a modified version of CU’s “What the Help?!” presentation about bystander intervention. The 90-minute presentation is interactive and includes fraternity-specific scenarios that members discuss in-depth.
“We worked with them to say ‘What do you struggle with? What plays out?'” said Teresa Wroe, who works in CU’s Community Health division. “‘Where are the points where you’re unsure whether or not to intervene or unsure whether it’s problematic behavior?'”
Wroe said one example of a scenario that’s unique to Greek life is when a newer fraternity member observes a troubling scene involving an older, more established member.
Wroe and other facilitators help the fraternity members talk through ways they could intervene.
The goal is to help the students understand they have options. There are a number of “low-level” actions they can take to diffuse the situation — direct confrontation is not the only option, Wroe said.
“If it’s an older brother and it would be social suicide to say something to him, how are you going to deal with that?” Wroe said. “Does that shut you down completely or can you go get another brother? It’s problem-solving and troubleshooting in a way that’s specific to fraternity life.”
The presentations also cover broader topics such as consent, actions that may constitute sexual assault, healthy sexuality, domestic violence and others, Wroe said.
Aside from providing fraternity members with information and practical skills, the presentations are also a chance for chapter members to talk candidly with each other about norms and expectations, said Zell.
“I don’t know that it’s ever really been an active conversation that a lot of brothers participate in,” he said. “This broke the ice. It’s a conversation a lot of people are afraid to have or they feel awkward, and I’m glad it’s becoming less of that over time.”
Fraternities cut ties with CU in 2005. Though they’re not formally connected to the campus, they do recruit CU students and many fraternity members live on University Hill, a short walk from the university.
Because the fraternities asked the university for the presentations, rather than being forced to attend mandatory lectures like most university-affiliated Greek communities, Zell said he felt members were more engaged.
“This is the only place that we know of where the kids went to the university and said ‘Teach us about this stuff,'” said Marc Stine, Boulder Greek advocate. “Every place else I’m seeing this done, they’re bringing large groups in for panels and videos and it’s not highly interactive. The way we set this up with the university was as a partnership.
“It’s a good example of the changed relationship between the university and the fraternities in Boulder.”