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EDITORIAL: Culture of gender-based violence on campuses must change

Sexism on campus, when left unchecked, has violent consequences

The recent assault at the University of Delaware should spark action on preventing gender-based violence. – Photo by University of Delaware / Instagram

Just last week, a University of Delaware student was brutally attacked, resulting in a hospital trip and an arrest of Brandon Freyre, the alleged attacker. News articles on the topic focus on the details of the assault and the nature of the crime, but very few looked into the factors that lead up to the attack.

The uncomfortable truth is Freyre did not become the defendant in a domestic violence case overnight — a culture of sexism, bystanding and toxic masculinity enabled his actions.

The University of Delaware was accused by students of responding bureaucratically. The school did not send out an email acknowledging the attack until four days had passed. It took just as long to "separate" Freyre from campus in the interest of student safety.

Some have proposed “assembling a task force to suggest best practices and recommendations to improve management of all efforts pertaining to safety, crime and sexual violence in the future.” But this task force and all other policy changes in response to this crime will be meaningless without enforcement, especially off campus.

The culture that leads to these kinds of assaults is hiding in plain sight. It is a culture that accepts and even celebrates the objectification of women and sexual assault. We would venture to say that most students are not sexist, most students are not violent, but there need not be a majority for violent acts to occur. It is enough for a handful of students to be violent and the rest to be silent for assault to happen.

Fraternities, like it or not, are a hotspot for sexist behavior. This is not to say that all fraternities and their members are chauvinists or enablers. The issue is not with all fraternities but with those with little regard for women and sometimes even their own members.

If the culture and attitude towards women on campus are to change, then university policies against sexism and hazing need to be enforced, and bystanders need to speak up when they see something.

Ratios at parties are the most common sign of fraternity sexism. Women are treated like a commodity, something to be traded for a ticket to a party. This rule that circulates around many college campuses signals to fraternity members that sexism is not just tolerated but also promoted.

The parties themselves pose the risk of spiked drinks, inappropriate sexual conduct and more to women who attend. And, of course, there is the language used to describe women.

The easy reply to this is to ask women to boycott these parties. But women should not have to sequester themselves from college activities to feel safe. College-age women deserve to feel safe on campus, and this requires a culture change. While an offhand comment may not seem like a big deal, it is a symptom of a much larger problem of violence against women.

Caroline Criado Perez said it best when she said, “Men who kill women do not suddenly kill women, they work up to killing women.” It might seem like a leap to say that sexist comments lead to violent action, but leaving sexist comments unaddressed signals that sexism is okay, and sexist behavior begins to spiral.

Universities must do more to enforce their biased policies in fraternities. Policies and formal emails do not have an effect on anyone if they are empty. Among undergraduate students, 26.4 percent of women and 6.8 percent of men experience rape or sexual assault. These figures alone should be enough to push universities to increase oversight in communities that have been historically responsible for sexual assault.

A culture change does not happen overnight. There is no formula to it and no straight path forward, but the first step is calling people out on behavior that is overtly sexist. This means having uncomfortable conversations with your friends, and it means addressing your own sexist behavior or beliefs (regardless of your gender). In some cases, it means reporting what looks like dangerous behavior even when you are hesitant to get involved.

If you or someone you know is in an unsafe relationship or has had experiences that you want to address, you can reach the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance here. Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program & Psychiatric Services (CAPS) is another great resource to keep in mind and can be found here.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 153rd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.


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