Social fraternities are often in the spotlight, and not always for a good reason. There are stories of hazing, bullying, excessive alcohol consumption, and sexual violence.
After seeing photos of fraternities at Ohio University hanging banners on their houses educating on the importance of consent, Illinois State University junior Nicholas Foley said he was inspired.
He was the vice president of public affairs at ISU’s Interfraternity Council at the time and said he decided it was time to take action against the stigma of sexual assault within Greek Life organizations.
"To show them that we're in unity,” Foley said. “Fraternity life is not about this. Fraternity men, we're about being proud men, being there for anyone, and helping anyone."
ISU has 13 registered IFC fraternities, also known as social fraternities. Ten participated in designing and displaying a banner with a phrase educating the importance of consent.
Banners at ISU read:
“It is not consent if they’re too afraid to say no.”
“‘No’ does not mean ‘convince me.’”
“Intoxication is not an invitation. No means no.”
And many more.
Foley’s plan was a weeklong campaign at the beginning of November. Some banners stayed up well past that mark.
"I did it just to show support,” Foley said. “It's the biggest thing, I think, for survivors to see, and it's really inspirational."
It was the first time ISU fraternities banded together in a public display of support for survivors of sexual assault.
Nikki Brauer is director of ISU's Health Promotion and Wellness unit, which works to educate students on the importance of sexual health through online training.
“They’re wanting to be involved with us, which is great,” Brauer said. “Because we want to engage them and work to make a better, a safer, and a more respectful campus.”
She said she was happy to see the banners.
“It’s also kind of a testament, right? They’re speaking out against these acts and that, I think, is impactful for our students. It’s also impactful for those communities, the Greek communities,” Brauer said.
Caitlin Dobson is the senior specialist of Fraternity and Sorority Life at ISU and advises the university’s IFC. She helped Foley pull off the campaign.
“Sometimes when you see a fraternity house, unfortunately some people may have some negative stereotypes or stigmas, and he (Foley) thought this would be a really great way to show people that our fraternity men care about the prevention of sexual assault and sexual violence,” Dobson said.
Dobson said only a few fraternities did not participate. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to. They didn’t have houses to hang the banners on.
Kappa Sigma participated even without a house. Foley said they made a banner to photograph and share on social media.
Foley takes the issue of sexual assault personally. He said a fraternity member allegedly raped one of his Foley’s good friends at ISU last year.
"That really, really affected me because this person is like a sister to me. I really care for her. And just to see the pain actually in person, what sexual violence does, it's devastating,” Foley said. “And if that happens to you, what do you do? Are you shamed? Are you scared of what people are going to think of you?”
Foley said he wanted to be that voice of support.
"I was so excited to see it. I was jumping up and down,” Foley said. “I was really excited to see my friend see this happen on campus because she's a survivor, she's so strong. I'm so proud of her for all the work that she's done to become better from that experience."
He posted photos of the banners on the Interfraternity Council Instagram account and on his personal Facebook page. Two-hundred people shared Foley’s post in one week. He raised more than $400 for the national organization Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s national sexual assault awareness organization It’s On Us shared one of Foley’s photos on its social media account too.
"I've had people personally message me saying thank you, but I'm like, no. Thank you, the survivors. I'm not doing this for self-praise at all. I'm doing it because women and men both experience sexual violence, and I want them to know that if you come out, there's nothing wrong with it,” Foley said. “You're not in the wrong. You're a strong independent person that something bad happened. It's not the end of the line. Let's get through it."
Foley said he hopes the support of the IFC and fraternity men on ISU’s campus will encourage survivors to speak out.
"I'm doing this for you guys. For people that don't really think they have a voice and they need a voice, and I'm there,” Foley said. “My parents taught me to be there for people who need you and put others first and just be there for them."
He called survivors some of the strongest people we know.
After spending nearly three years at ISU, Foley said he loves the university. He says he wants to leave it better than he found it.
"I personally want people to feel safe here, because that's how I felt all my almost four years here, was safety. I feel safe walking through the night, but I'm also a 6-foot-2 male and I'm pretty big, so people won't mess with me,” Foley said. “I just want a safer campus for everyone so everyone can enjoy it like I did."
Dobson said fraternity and sorority membership is for life. Members should also represent the values of their organization past graduation.
“Fraternities and sororities really exist to make men better men and women better women, and at the end of the day, we need those students to be the leaders in these areas, specifically with consent and sexual assault prevention,” Dobson said. “And so for us, it’s really another chance to show the campus community that fraternity and sorority life is so much more than what people might think, and may have heard, and unfortunately, what they may see in the news.”
Last week, a former Baylor University fraternity president made national news. Jacob Walter Anderson allegedly raped a woman at a 2016 fraternity party.
After being convicted of four counts of sexual assault, a plea bargain landed Anderson a lesser conviction with three years of deferred probation and a $400 fine.
Dobson, the ISU Fraternity and Sorority Life specialist, recognizes an opening for change. She said being involved in Greek Life on campus is a leadership opportunity, and that part of that leadership is being educated on sexual violence and sexual assault.
Dobson said all new members to IFC have to complete an online module that talks about sexual assault prevention and alcohol education. A duo she said often falls hand in hand.
New fraternity and sorority members also attend bystander empowerment training to learn how to recognize situations where sexual assault or sexual violence might occur, and how to take a stand when it does.
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