By Nisha Umesh:
It has been about two months since my first year of college ended at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). The University was originally established in 1891 by the North Carolina General Assembly under “An Act to Establish a Normal and Industrial School for White Girls.” In 1956, JoAnne Smart Drane and Bettye Ann Tillman would become the first Black women to enroll at UNCG. And in the fall of 1964, the student body included 282 men as result of a top-down decision to make all UNC System schools co-educational. I do not approve of the initial exclusion of Black women, among other women of colour such as myself, a clear manifestation of racism and sexism in action.
However, since 1964, patriarchy has gone nowhere and is still alive and thriving. The majority of my unpleasant memories from my first year involved various men, who felt entitled to harass me on a regular basis. I had little familiarity with these types of experiences prior to college, and was jolted into a harsh reality I was not prepared to face. Consequently, I am critical of the decision to include men, because of how it has affected my time as a First Year.
Presently on a global scale, women across college campuses face the threat and fear of rape and sexual assault, which we have become normalized to, as it is deeply embedded into our institutions and culture. On college campuses around 1 in 4 women in college are victims of sexual violence, and about 1 in 12 men in college will admit to having raped a woman. These numbers are a clear indication of gender-based oppression, in which men are favored and women are abused.
I soon began to realise just how patriarchy and gender-based oppression weigh down on women’s lives. Whether it be catcalling, sexual assault, rape, emotional or psychological abuse, the power dynamic of this social construct without a doubt favors men, and victimizes women. There exists so deeply permeated into our society a culture resulting from patriarchal norms, which dehumanizes women’s bodies and minds. We are struggling to survive in a blissfully ignorant world, which has historically oppressed us into mere objects of pleasure.
While speaking about sexual violence on college campuses, we must center our conversation around historically White fraternities, which have through time expressed both anti-Black sentiments and misogyny. We cannot forget while addressing sexual violence against women, white men in these fraternities perpetuate racism, demonising and excluding black people and other people of colour from their institutions.
This is perfectly evidenced by a recent incident, in which the frat Sigma Alpha Epsilon of Oklahoma University chanted a racist mantra whilst gathered on a bus, which consisted of the lines “You can hang em’ from a tree, but it will never start with me…“. Much of the U.S reacted with disgust and complete shock, to which I must ask, should we be surprised?
With the U.S having such a deep history of anti-blackness, as this very nation was built off the labour and genocide of people of colour, can we truly express shock towards what has and never will be an isolated incident? Lynching is not a racial crime of the past, and today still trails in the shadows of black people, as evidenced by this video. As Robert Cohen, professor of Social Studies and History at New York University, so eloquently says: “Lynching symbolizes black powerlessness…The implication seems to be that even if the university integrates the fraternity will remain an outpost of white supremacy and racial exclusion.”
Jessica Bennett, a columnist at Time, poses the question: “Why isn’t every campus in America dissolving its fraternity program — or at least instituting major, serious reform?” Amid endless reports of sexual violence emerging against fraternity members, our universities must critique the violence perpetuated by historically white fraternities, and question whether these powerful male social groups should exist. From policing the bodies and dress of women, abusing alcohol, and expressing anti-Black sentiment, it is time to dismantle historically white fraternities and prioritise social groups which can provide a space of support and voice for people of colour.
Sexual violence and anti-Blackness are very much tied together, for as white fraternities are granted systemic privilege, and power, they utilize this to abuse women, especially women of of colour. Misogyny and racism has always been present in our education institutions and will continue to, until we recognize and fight to dismantle patriarchy and abolish white supremacy in the U.S. As Cohen powerfully states regarding the incident at the University of Oklahoma: “The historical roots of this racist fraternity tradition and the political, cultural and demographic props that sustain it must be understood and confronted honestly if the ghost of Jim Crow is ever to be banished from frat row.“