Forum addresses gender inequality
By Katy O'donnell, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, August 10, 2007
A diverse crowd of nearly 200 students packed into the chapter room of Gamma Delta Chi fraternity both to listen to a panel of eight students talk about their experiences with gender issues at Dartmouth and to discuss those problems in a forum inspired by the campus-wide response to the harrassment of members of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority by members of Theta Delta Chi fraternity last week.
Last Wednesday, as members of Kappa were about to enter Theta Delt, members of the fraternity allegedly called them "sluts," "whores" and "bitches" as they threw objects from various windows in the direction of the group waiting at the back entrance below. Theta Delt members then reportedly "trashed" their basement, according to an e-mail sent by Kappa President Amanda Young '09 to other sorority presidents on campus.
The forum, which lasted from 9 to 10:30 p.m., raised issues of Greek stereotypes, intentionality, comfort levels in Greek basements, self-respect and the role of alcohol in male-female interactions as students theorized about what can be done differently at Dartmouth in the future.
Many women said they feel more comfortable in the basements of the campus's three local sororities, where the sexual intimidation and aggression they said they encounter in male-dominated spaces are not concerns. Theta Delt member Jon Livadas '09 countered that gender discomfort works both ways and said he often feels uncomfortable in sororities like Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority, where "the walls kind of freak me out," he said. Livadas then chided people for laughing during what he called a discussion of something his fraternity is taking seriously.
Livadas was one of three Theta Delt members in the audience who spoke. Mac Elatab '09 spoke up early in the discussion to object to the use of "feminism," which he termed a divisive word that puts women above men, in favor of a word that means "equality." Students in the audience and on the panel quickly told him that the term "feminism" refers to a doctrine advocating equality between men and women.
Theta Delt member Phil Killian '09 said that Theta Delt, which he promised has taken accountability as a house, is sorry and sent an apology blitz to Kappa. When Kappa member Lindsay Hunt '09 said she had not received any personal apologies and believed that the emotional toll of the event required them, Killian responded that although he believed some personal apologies were issued, the house functions "as a unit" and that "a lot of guys were really drunk" and might not have remembered what happened.
Two members of Theta Delt served on the panel -- Anthony Arch '09 and Theta Delt President Ben Beisswenger '09. Kappa was represented on the panel by Jackie Kier '09 and Kayte Suslavich '09.
Beisswenger apologized profusely for the incident, saying "we are so, so sorry." Arch commented at various points throughout the discussion on his distaste for fraternity stereotypes and his desire to work with women and incoming students to fix the issues at hand.
Except for occasional offhanded remarks -- most of which were heavily prefaced or immediately swapped for different wording -- the dialogue was not hostile toward Theta Delt.
Many, though, expressed frustration with the heavy use of abstract or general terms during the discussion.
"I'd say that both sides didn't really understand the other side's view because we were beating around the bush so much," Jon Hopper '08, the discussion's moderator, said. "There were comments made that could have been percecived as an attack on men on the campus. Because of that, I think that people held back from getting to the issues that they wanted to talk about for fear of confrontation."
As the conversation oscillated between discussion of graver sexual offenses and more common breaches, more than one male contended that lesser transgressions are often not intended as disrespectful, but that it is difficult to know what is offensive without girls telling them.
In that vein, various males said that women would "avoid [dealing with] the issue" by choosing not to return to unwelcoming environments, although panel member A.J. Fox '09, who is unaffiliated, said, "when I feel like I've been disrespected somewhere, I just don't go back."
Fox is a member of The Dartmouth Staff.
Females also addressed issues of self-respect and feminism. Julia DeWahl '09, a member of KDE, noted that some women are reluctant to call themselves feminists because "being a feminist is not always 'sexy.'"
"The word 'feminism' was tossed around Tuesday night," she said, "and I think a lot of people don't know how to react to it because of its extremist past and misusage."
Much of the discussion centered around girls' confessed discomfort specifically in fraternity basements. Julia Marks '09, an unaffiliated speaker on the panel, noted that fraternity basements make her feel more like "a girl in a gendered society" than anywhere else on campus.
"It's the fact that cuter girls get beers first, and it is a male space so males are more comfortable," she said in an interview with The Dartmouth. "Sometimes numbers-wise it just feels like there are more of them even thought that's not probably true; they're bigger, and also since they're more comfortable they might be more vocal, and so you get that sense. This also ties in with what the girls [participating in the discussion] were saying about no one saying 'hi'-- there's also the sense that its not that important if you're there or not."
Elise Hogan '09, a member of The Tabard who spoke on the panel, said fraternity basements differ from other social arenas because they are "privately owned spaces where there's a lot of alcohol and sex."
"Sex and alcohol are combined in an atmosphere where there's a power dynamic from the very beginning," she said. "Automatically a girl puts herself at a lower level when [she] has to ask for a beer at the bar."
The forum also drew several administrators; Leah Prescott, the coordinator of the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program, was in attendance, along with Megan Fallon of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, Josiah Proietti of Residential Life and Upperclass Dean Kent Yrchik-Shoemaker.
Prescott, who noted in an interview that the Sexual Abuse Peer Advisors and the Mentors Against Violence have worked with the Interfraternity Council to institute a new gender education program this fall, said that she thought the forum progressed like most of the others she has attended and that she hopes discussion will continue.
When asked what the best way to effect change is, Prescott called on men, saying that they have to "call each other to task and call each other out."
"I guess I'm just hoping that things will become more of a domino effect," she said.
Hopper, who noted that he was impressed to hear of post-forum discussion in "two [houses] I wouldn't typically have thought were discussing it," said he hopes conversation will continue but is skeptical about a long-term transformation in male-female relations.
"Because this has been an important issue for me at Dartmouth for the past two years," he said, "I would hope the dialogue is the beginning of a change on campus, but my upperclassman side says that this will all have blown over by the time the [freshmen] get here in the fall."