I’ll start by saying this — I’ve been harassed in dining halls, at fraternity houses and on New Haven streets by Yale fraternity members and male athletes. On almost every occasion, I was alone. Each time, I was physically or verbally harassed unexpectedly and at my most vulnerable, with little knowledge of why or how I had become a target. By strangers, acquaintances and, on multiple occasions, by men that today I call my “friends.”
Even after these moments, their words — from “charity case” to “ghetto Black bitch” — continued to echo in my head. Fear paralyzed me as their discussions of my Black body and hair turned into taunts and fondling. Every incident included jeering and pointing, and some included spanking and screaming. Most, however, went unnoticed by the quiet or distracted fraternity members in the crowd of harassers and the “innocent” bystanders who felt no need to speak up. All incidents occurred without a single word or act of defense from me.
When I became the institutional service coordinator of Dwight Hall at Yale, I decided to focus my efforts on expanding the reach of our vision of public service and social justice. To me, that meant increasing service work in communities that are seen by the greater Yale community as either unable or unwilling to regularly engage in volunteering. I knew this would involve working with both Black and white male athletes and fraternity brothers who had absentmindedly physically and verbally harassed me on several occasions. I knew this would involve engaging with fraternities who have denied women of color entrance into their houses and sexually assaulted students who have not been given their rightful opportunity to speak up. And I knew that these actions were commonplace enough within their communities that many of these men would not remember what they had done or who I was. Despite feeling unsafe in their gaze, I decided to defend them not only within the walls of Dwight Hall, but to the administration and anyone else who had written them off as inherently racist, sexist or outright evil.
Beyond hours of angry tears or passing glares, I haven’t done much to expose the misogyny and racism within fraternities at Yale. Through Dwight Hall, I have tried to give several of them a chance to do better by facilitating volunteer opportunities and encouraging and organizing service projects. Additional volunteering has occurred in a few fraternities, but others have completely ignored the offer, and the underlying hope of their betterment through service has failed. In light of recent accusations over the weekend, I have been forced to recommend a complete suspension of Dwight Hall’s relationship with all fraternities because of the very same behavior I have worked so hard to look past. Through sober and structured conversation, I have given myself an opportunity to take a closer look inside the minds and physical spaces that encourage rape culture. I can now say I am unsatisfied and disgusted with what I see.
Before today, you had not heard my story. Unfortunately, even after today, the stories of harassment that women of color choose to share will continue to be discounted, ignored and trivialized. Now, however, I am sharing something that is much more than a story.
This is not simply an accusation. Make no mistake. This is a call to action.
Several of my classmates continue to defend brothers within these violently sexist and racist organizations by referencing their personal ignorance of the misogyny other women of color and I experience every day on this campus. I hope that my story — of a Black woman who gave Yale fraternities every chance to improve despite outstanding evidence that they are currently unwilling to do so — will cause all of you to reevaluate how you react to incidents of racism and sexism.
If you do not condone racism and misogyny, especially in fraternities, say it.
If you have enjoyed a fraternity party, but don’t agree with racist and misogynistic behavior, you are not alone; say it. If you are associated with Greek life through your friends or your own fraternity or sorority, it is your responsibility as a human being to publicly denounce inappropriate behavior from within organizations of which you are a part. Denounce the behavior, whether you choose to believe how or why it occurred. Those of us who have felt unsafe in a fraternity house are not interested in excuses or denials. We are only strengthened by your empathetic voices, and their impact on the opinions and behaviors of those around us.
I do not condone racism and misogyny, especially in fraternities. I said it. It’s now your turn.
Briana Burroughs is a junior in Berkeley College. Contact her at email@example.com .