Critics spoke out on Thursday against a decision to bar sorority sisters at University of Virginia in Charlottesville from attending frat parties this weekend, calling it irrational and sexist.
“I think it’s absolutely absurd and really shocking that the national leadership here is showing such ignorance about what causes sexual violence,” Laura Dunn, the founder and executive director of SurvJustice, an organization working to provide justice to victims of sexual assault, told Al Jazeera. She is a sexual assault survivor.
Parties scheduled for this weekend, a period when fraternities recruit new members, presented “significant safety concerns,” the National Panhellenic Conference, the umbrella group representing 16 national sorority chapters that enforced the ban, told UVA sororities.
The ban lasts until Jan. 31 and violators have been threatened with fines and suspensions. It follows the violent death of a female UVA student and an article in Rolling Stone magazine that made graphic allegations of gang rape by a fraternity member at UVA. The allegations, which were later questioned, led the university to temporarily suspend Greek social activities.
The ban on attending frat parties comes at a time when universities across the United States are trying to fight what the White House has described as an "epidemic" of sexual assault.
But many experts said curbing women's freedoms isn't the correct way to address the violence.
“To say, ‘Women, don’t have a normal life, fear for yourselves, stay inside’ — it’s a really antiquated message. Limiting the lives of women is not the answer to solving sexual violence,” Dunn said.
A petition launched on Change.org by an anonymous woman in Charlottesville also challenged the decision, echoing Dunn’s concerns that the ban amounted to victim blaming.
“Instead of addressing rape and sexual assault at UVA, this mandate perpetuates the idea that women are inferior, sexual objects,” reads the petition.
Michelle Bower, a spokeswoman for the National Panhellenic Conference, told Bloomberg News that the national sororities made the decision collectively.
“This directive is intended to help uphold an NPC unanimous agreement of women not participating in men’s recruitment and address safety and risk management concerns associated with this tradition,” Bower said.
But Dunn said this is another example of burden being “too often placed on women.”
Instead, male and female students should collectively be trained to intervene if they see potential problems, drink responsibly, stay around other people at parties and speak up, she said. She said a special responsibility should be given to men, who could be much more powerful in influencing these types of situations.
“Men care about what other men think,” Dunn said, adding that if other men spoke up more often, their friends would listen.
UVA and its fraternities recently agreed on new safety plans in response to the allegations, according to the Cavalier Daily, UVA’s student paper. About one-quarter of the UVA student population is part of a Greek organization.
The rules require at least three sober fraternity members to be at parties and another sober member to watch the stairs to fraternity bedrooms to help prevent sexual violence, the Cavalier Daily reported.
In similar moves to prevent alcohol-related problems, Dartmouth College on Thursday said it would ban hard alcohol on its campus. Dartmouth, in Hanover, New Hampshire, is one of 50 U.S. universities that the Department of Education is investigating to determine whether their sexual assault policies violate U.S. laws requiring equal treatment of men and women in higher education.
Experts have said that binge drinking on campuses across the U.S. has fed into the epidemic of sexual assaults. Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon didn’t link drinking to sexual violence but said it leads to health concerns.
“The steering committee found that high-risk drinking is far too prevalent on our campus and that in the vast majority of alcohol-induced medical transports, it is hard alcohol — rather than beer or wine — that lands students on a hospital gurney,” he told the college in a speech on Thursday.
It follows similar decisions to control partying at Brown University and Swarthmore College, The Wall Street Journal reported.
With wire services