One has to wonder how many kegs of beer were depleted before someone in the Old Dominion University chapter of Sigma Nu thought it was a good idea to make a series of banners that played exactly to the growing perception of fraternities as a breeding ground for boorish, misogynistic sexual predators.
In glaringly dumb move, some members decided to make banners and hang them from an off-campus building, inducing cringes and chills not only across Norfolk, Virginia, but the country after photos circulated online.
These oh-so-clever phrases included:
Rowdy and Fun, Hope Your Baby Girl is Ready for a Good Time...
Freshman Daughter Drop Off
Go Ahead and Drop Off Mom Too
The backlash hit Sigma Nu harder than an Everclear-induced hangover.
The banners appeared last Friday, and by Saturday Old Dominion had denounced the signs and said they were reviewing the incident.
By Monday, the school had suspended the Sigma Nu chapter activities until it completed an investigation.
The national Sigma Nu Fraternity organization also rebuked the Old Dominion chapter.
“Such language has no place in our Fraternity or within any caring community, such as that of ODU. Any Fraternity member found to be responsible for this reprehensible display will be held accountable by the Fraternity,” Executive Director Brad Beacham stated in a press release.
Whether the banners reflected a shameful immaturity or lent evidence to the perception of an entrenched rape culture on campus, one thing was clear: The men who made them were completely tone-deaf to current, extremely vexed debates.
Where had the students been the past two years?
Were they not aware of the White House task force on campus sexual assault?
Had they not followed prominent cases of campus sexual assault claims, like the ones at Columbia and Brown?
Yet, the men at Old Dominion were not alone in their obliviousness.
A day after they had their “welcome” signs for freshmen women, a group of seniors at Ohio State University hung banners on a private off-campus residence reading “Dads, we’ll take it from here” and “Daughter daycare 2.0” in time for move-in day.
Criticism came unsurprisingly fast, and the seniors quickly took down the signs. An Ohio State University official told the Daily Beast that the school had reached out to the students as a “teaching moment.”
“Our motives were not to insult or look down on anyone, not to be sexist,” Justin Miller, an OSU senior, told a local NBC affiliate in Columbus, Ohio. “Our motive is just to have fun, it is college.”
These signs were more patronizing than predatory, but the uproar over them speaks to the growing gulf of misunderstanding between campus sexual assault advocates who push for stricter consent laws and the (predominantly male) students who feel their innocuous jokes are under attack and being mistaken as signs of rape culture.
We’re at a time where campus sexual assault reform is swinging to the extreme in many cases—to the point that the law faculty at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania have publicly expressed criticism of their schools and worries that new policies violate due process for the accused.
But there is also the other extreme of the “bros” who, instead of responding and evolving to the new sensitivities toward sexual assault on campus, appear to be doubling down in their old ways.
“Can people not take a joke anymore?” Harrison Lee at Total Frat Move wrote in response to Old Dominion’s decision to suspend Sigma Nu.
In fact, Lee posted photos of repulsive signs that other fraternities had made, including one from West Virginia University that said “She called you daddy for 18 years/Now its our turn” (nice spelling of “it’s” by the way, boys).
“Unfortunately, some folks at Old Dominion don’t have exquisite taste in art like this. These people were outraged at the sign. They said it gave off a little bit of a rapey vibe,” Lee wrote. “I’m just going to chalk this up to guys being dudes. No harm. No foul.”
This camp is blindingly, irritatingly ignorant. Their embrace of a boorishness that is patronizing and objectifies women is antiquated and frightening.
“I think it really shows us the problem is still there. While Americans are collectively exhausted with the term ‘rape culture’ we need to turn here and see that some really stupid decisions are being made,” Liz Seccuro, a member of the board of trustees of One in Four, a national organization that works with college-aged men to combat sexual assault, told The Daily Beast.
“Some may see it as lighthearted and ‘boys will be boys,’ but the end of that attitude has come and rightfully so,” said Seccuro, who has spoken about surviving sexual assault on campus and has written for The Daily Beast.
She questioned how the fraternity could have thought the signs would be well received in current climate. “Why was not one of the brothers there to say, ‘Dude, this is not a good idea.’”
This lack of foresight goes a step further because these undergrads don’t seem to realize in clinging to gross, immature, chauvinistic behavior in the name of boyish fun, they will ultimately suffer.
The days when a college or other students would laugh off these signs are long gone.
“When you are basically threatening violence against young women and their mothers, it’s a terrible look, and it backfires,” said Seccuro.
“A bad egg doesn’t make a bad carton, but it makes it harder even for Sigma Nu. What if a sexual assault happened there? The prosecution could point to this and say this is evidence of rape culture.”
Andrew Miltenberg, an attorney who represents a number of male students who have been accused of sexual assault, as well as fraternities dealing with sexual assault claims, also said that these banners only provide support for more extreme campus sexual assault legislation.
“I think in the great scheme of things people will look and say they’re being frat boys,” Miltenberg told The Daily Beast. But, he added, this was also “fodder” for all those “clamoring for greater, more stringent responses to young men accused of sexual assault on campus.”