The Underlying Problem With This Fraternity's Crude Signs

August 25th 2015

Laura Donovan

Old Dominion University's Sigma Nu fraternity was suspended while the school begins an investigation into the group after several members reportedly hung crass, sexually suggestive signs outside their off-campus house last week as freshman arrived on campus.

The white signs read "Rowdy and fun, hope your baby girl is ready for a good time," "Freshman Daughter Drop Off" and "Go ahead and Drop Off Mom Too," and were draped on the house balcony for all to see during freshman welcome week. Many took to social media to complain that Sigma Nu was celebrating rape culture, which fraternities have frequently been accused of perpetuating lately, with the banners:

The signs quickly sparked controversy online and were ultimately removed.

Sigma Nu's national chapter executive director Brad Beacham said in a statement that "any fraternity member found to be responsible for this reprehensible display will be held accountable by the fraternity."

Over the weekend, Old Dominion University president John R. Broderick wrote in a Facebook post that the banners were offensive and insensitive to sexual assault, a growing problem on college campuses.

"I am outraged about the offensive message directed toward women that was visible for a time on 43rd Street. Our students, campus community and alumni have been offended. While we constantly educate students, faculty and staff about sexual assault and sexual harassment, this incident confirms our collective efforts are still failing to register with some. A young lady I talked to earlier today courageously described the true meaning of the hurt this caused. She thought seriously about going back home."

In the statement, the university president shared a link to a video of student leaders speaking out against the banners:

The larger issue with the banners

While some have said the signs were ultimately harmless and not worth getting angry about, the message behind these banners circles back to a sinister, deeper problem facing the Greek community. In recent years, fraternities have made national news for displaying questionable and downright unacceptable behavior.

In March, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity at the University of Oklahoma was widely criticized after a video surfaced of the fraternity brothers chanting a racist song on a bus. University of Oklahoma President David Boren went on to expel and condemn two fraternity members involved in the debacle.

The video, which shows the fraternity members on a charter bus singing the words, "There will never be a ni**** in SAE, you can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me," was posted on YouTube by the Black student community group Unheard to expose racism within the campus community.

Following the clip's release, dozens of students and faculty members protested the inherent racism in SAE's message on campus:

South Carolina's Clemson University also came under fire this year after court documents revealed 19-year-old Tucker Hipps fell to his death after he was forced to walk along a narrow bridge railing as part of fraternity hazing. On the morning of his death, Hipps was asked to purchase McDonald's breakfast for 30 fraternity members prior to a pre-dawn run. Hipps reportedly text messaged a fellow fraternity member that he did not have enough to pay for that many meals, so as his punishment for showing up with nothing, he was asked to walk on the railing. The plaintiffs allege that the fraternity attempted to cover up its involvement in Hipps' death by deleting text messages and phone records.

Fraternities in the U.S. have faced criticized many times for perpetuating rape culture and mistreating women. In the spring, Penn State University's Kappa Delta Rho (KDR) fraternity was suspended after reportedly posting nude and partially nude photos of women on a private Facebook group. As CNN reported at the time, some of the females in the images appear to be sleeping or passed out. State College Police and university officials conducted an investigation on the Facebook page, which had more than 140 members comprised of current and former students. A former member had tipped off authorities and said the group had pictures of "unsuspecting victims, drug sales, and hazing."

"The evidence offered by the Facebook postings is appalling, offensive, and inconsistent with the University community's values and expectations," Damon Sims, Vice President for Student Affairs, wrote in a statement.

As we previously noted, under Title IX, universities that receive public funding are required to follow certain standards regarding the disposition of sexual assault accusations reported by students. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice commissioned a study that found that one in five women are sexually assaulted in college. A government study from 2014 had even more alarming findings: 41 percent of colleges and universities had not investigated a single instance of sexual assault for the previous five years.

Responding to the Sigma Nu controversy, "Miss Representation" filmmaker Jen Siebel Newsom said this should inspire a larger discussion about how we look at harassment:

At the beginning of the summer, Lady Gaga and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote a joint article on Billboard.com calling for better handling of sexual assaults on college campuses. The article was intended to elevate and help pass "Enough is Enough," Cuomo's legislation fighting for improved campus sexual assault policies. "Enough is Enough," which Cuomo signed into law in June, proposed a statewide standard of affirmative consent for sexual assault as well as a sexual violence victim and survivor bill of rights. The policies apply to all colleges in New York, including private schools.

During this time, Cuomo began hosting screenings of "The Hunting Ground," a new documentary on the problem of campus sexual assault.

In their piece, Gaga and Cuomo explained that sexual assault can ruin the college experience, which many people spend their young lives looking forward to.

"Every fall, young men and women head off to colleges across the country, dreaming of bright futures and the experience of a lifetime," Cuomo and Gaga wrote. "They’ve worked hard for the chance to become a part of their new campuses, and they set out full of hope and excitement. Unfortunately, for thousands of these students that dream turns into a nightmare because of the unacceptable epidemic of sexual violence that is currently plaguing colleges and universities. It is a shocking reality that many in academia, government, and society in general still refuse to acknowledge."