Campus conversation turns to rape culture

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OXFORD – Intense campus discussions this week about sexual harassment at the University of Mississippi, ignited by an incident at a Derby Days event, should be used as momentum to change a more pervasive rape culture, says Sydney Green, president of the Ole Miss student group Rebels Against Sexual Assault.

“The Derby Days incident is not a singular issue,” she says. “Rape culture is an issue not only in Greek life or at the University of Mississippi.”

Friday afternoon, Rebels Against Sexual Assault held a panel discussion about rape culture, a combination of values and social practices that reinforce behavior that leads to rape.

Although the panel discussion was another in a long list of meetings and conversations inspired by the allegations of sexual harassment that occurred at the Sigma Chi Derby Days dance competition last week — part of the fraternity’s annual philanthropic effort — the organizers of Friday’s discussion said they wanted to focus on the culture that inspires incidents like that, rather than the Derby Days event itself.

Sophomore Abby Bruce wrote a Facebook post after the dance competition. She said she and other female students were too disturbed by the sexually suggestive questions being asked women representing their sororities to stay through the event. By Saturday afternoon, her post had been shared on Facebook more than 1,000 times. After members of the university administration saw the post that day they referred the incident to the Title IX office. That investigation is still open. Title IX, a federal mandate, protects male and female students in an educational setting from gender-based discrimination, including sexual harassment.

Approximately 100 students attended the Friday discussion, including Sigma Chi president Clay Wooley and the fraternity’s vice-president, Max Lopez. The panel included campus NAACP president Buka Okoye and several other students.

Wooley, who has had several other discussions with student groups since the alleged harassment occurred, said all of these conversations have been eye-opening for him.

“I’m learning about 30 new things every day,” Wooley said. “Every time a group of students and faculty who are educated and care are able to come together in that kind of setting, you’re going to hear new perspectives and new ideas you’ve never heard of before.

“And I think I’m picking up on a lot in particular because I’m so humble. I’m coming from a position of ‘I screwed up.’ I shouldn’t have let this happen, so I’m very receptive to all these thoughts.”