I graduated this past May from the University of Florida, a school known for its academics, cheap in-state tuition and occasionally, athletics (Tim Tebow!). Now, UF is gaining notoriety for a series of campus assaults that have panicked female students and put a magnifying glass on the campus police.
The local Target store is sold out of pepper spray. Jezebel is angry with cops for writing jaywalking tickets instead of catching the “rapist,” who, mercifully, hasn’t actually raped anyone yet.
According to The Independent Florida Alligator, the suspect wears University of Florida clothing, is 6’4” to 6’5” and around 250 pounds. In four separate attacks, a man matching that description assaulted three white women between the ages of 20 to 21. One had her clothes ripped, and all four fought back. The local police have praised the women for fighting back and said their fierceness kept the assaults from moving further. Previously, police had linked four attacks—but one of them was found to be unrelated after further interviews.
Amid all the panic on campus, what has been most curious to me is the reaction from UF’s sorority row.
Four years ago, when I was a sorority freshman, I would have never said I was a feminist. The culture, even just a few years ago, is mostly what the stereotypes say they are. Boy-obsessed. A fascination with crafting (I still have Mod Podge in bodily crevasses). Lukewarm friendships. Saying the words “legit” and “basic” a lot. Boob jobs being the new black. Eating pizza and chicken fingers for every meal. Oh wait, that last one might have been just me.
My closest sorority sisters told me I “wasn’t a very good feminist” because “I always had a guy.” (Anyone who has ever used the Internet knows that’s one of the single-handedly most irritating things to ever say to a woman.) For the love of Blue Ivy, I won’t even tell you what happened when they said, “You like Beyoncé too much.”
I’m sure this isn’t news to anyone, considering sorority membership is based off of essentially telling other women they aren’t good enough. Cue Mean Girls: “You can’t sit with us.”
Four years ago, I’d never see my sisters bring up issues such as victim-blaming, or create Facebook statuses about how harmful rape jokes can be, or openly promote campus sexual assault awareness events.
A similar series of crimes happened when I was a sophomore at the school. People were equally terrified. When winter break came and students went home, there were jokes about getting shirts that said “I survived the Gainesville rapist.” But people weren’t speaking out. We were hiding out—and with good reason. At one point, my friends and I crept to my car with four giant kitchen knives in hand.
After one attack specifically, I heard people say “Oh, well she was drunk” and “Well, it’s her fault for getting in the car or that wouldn’t happen.”
Hmm. Or. OR. OR. He could have not raped her.
Now, three years later one of my former sisters posted in response to the latest assaults: “Another attack on campus? What is that like 5 in the past 2 weeks? What kind of world do we live in that women cannot feel safe and walk around their area without worrying that she will get physically attacked? It is pathetic and absolutely disgusting that there are men out there that think it is okay to harm women for their own personal pleasure.”
A status like that would have “happened” to disappear just a few years ago.
It’s not just sex assault—sororities seem to be more comfortable with the f-word, too. Total Sorority Move recently posted about how there is a blatant misunderstanding about what feminism is in regards to the “Women Against Feminism” movement (which if you want to, something I could never see the “Thoughts While Giving a Blowjob”-touting site posting a few years ago.
There was another viral post discussing why sorority recruitment needs to change. The writer said, “Women are still fighting for equal rights and equal pay in this world—the very last thing college women should do is tear down new college women.”
One of my former sisters is a women’s issues blogger for the student paper. When I started that blog topic as the editor, I never would have thought I’d see a fellow sorority member discussing why feminism is an important part of her. Still, there are girls terrified of the f-word, mostly because they don’t understand it.
This change in how Greek life reacts to sexual assault and to feminism in general seems to be making its way to fraternities as well—although, just last year, fellow SEC school Vanderbilt had a fraternity suspended for sending an email joking about rape. Since the incidents at UF, a few fraternity men have spoken out on Facebook in outrage. They’re also, according to my internal sorority Facebook group, creating a cadre of “volunteers” to walk women from the campus library late at night. (They’ve registered this through the school so it’s really not as creepy as it sounds.)
The university police department has set up an Emergency Operations Center to host calls from parents and students, control rumors (one of which claims that the guy is attacking only women wearing sorority letters), and to collect information about the suspect.
CNN posted a video of UPD Chief of Police Linda Stump addressing the issue. She said, “We are concerned it may or will escalate.” The police department, despite public belief, is substantially upping patrol and investigative measures.
Sororities, if nothing else, are great at just that: sticking together. There’s also a strong presence of groupthink. Ideas spread quickly, and become huge. Like, Nikki Minaj booty huge. Imagine if these early indications of a shift in culture were to be acted upon. If someone stood up in chapter meetings said, “Hey, feminism is cool now.” If one of the hot-ass older girls had said that to me when I was a freshman I would have sung my feminist song as loud as Sheryl Sandberg does. It takes a few people, and the rest will follow. There’s now anti-“fat talk” initiatives and initiatives about loving your body—headed up by my former sisters. And people are listening. It will just take time for those little murmurs to become a roar.