Calling out the sexists at UVM

BURLINGTON, Vt.--Some 200 angry students, faculty, community members and members of Occupy Burlington turned out December 15 to protest a University of Vermont (UVM) fraternity that circulated a survey asking members who they'd like to rape.

The action, which turned out a large number of students on the second-to-last day of final exams, was called by FedUp Vermont, a radical grassroots feminist coalition, in response to an e-mail survey leaked from Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity that included the question, "If I could rape someone, who would it be?"

UVM student Kristin Nelson explained, "We are here today to discuss a crude perpetuation of rape culture and sexualized violence...by having this survey circulated among the brothers, it plants a very serious seed in their minds: who would you rape?"

"We will not tolerate rape in our community," said another student, Aliza Ledever. "We will not tolerate cover-ups or handling any of this under the rug. We must bring it forward, we must make it public, and we must end it now!"

FedUp Vermont planned to launch a campaign to shut down Sigma Phi Episilon UVM Chapter, and within a week, the decision came from the national chapter to shut it down. And down it went. This victory is a significant one, not only for UVM students and FedUp Vermont, but also for feminists, socialists, Occupiers and activists everywhere.

Greek life on college and university campuses all over the nation are entrenched in rape culture, in which members of fraternities (and many university administrators) cover up and gloss over rape, harassment and blatant sexism, and it often seems that the university shrugs it off as "boys will be boys."

The investigation of the Sigma Phi Epsilon UVM chapter uncovered another "brother" videotaping a woman in a locker room (at his place of employment) undressing. The footage was uncovered because he emailed it to the members of his fraternity. He has pled guilty to the charge.

On January 21, FedUp Vermont will join with many other local organizations for a statewide event including a speak-out, rally, protest and teach-in. Activists are making these demands:

1. UVM must institute mandatory women and gender studies courses for all students.
2. UVM must invest more resources into the women and gender studies department and make gender studies a Spire of Excellence.
3. UVM must provide full transparency about sexual harassment, rape and gender violence in the UVM community and regularly report statistics about the occurrences.
4. UVM must develop leadership bodies which reflect the gender composition of the UVM community and that project the role of women as leaders.

A range of groups, including Occupy Burlington and several unions, have already endorsed the January 21 action. The broadness of support unravels the all-too-common-myths that we live in a post-sexist society, or that sexism is so entrenched that it cannot be eradicated. We will fight alongside one other, putting pressure on the UVM administration to meet our demands, and call upon UVM Greek life to join the struggle.