Think about your own notions of consent, force, and rape as you
read the following court account of a sexual assault that occurred
at Harvard College in April, 1998, as related by the Harvard Crimson:
The court's account of the incident is taken from the hearing in
which [the assailant] pled guilty to indecent assault and battery.
In the court records, the prosecutor reads an account of the incident,
after which [the assailant] is recorded as saying, "I admit
to committing the crime." According to the account, both students
had been friends for a year. On April 3, the night of the incident,
the woman saw [the assailant] while on a date with another man.
The victim told The Crimson yesterday that she was "feeling
the effects of alcohol" that night.
Court documents state that the three attended a party together.
Afterwards, as her date walked her home, [the assailant] began walking
along with the pair. The other man left her at her dorm, but [the
assailant] "told her he wanted to go home with her," and
stayed behind, prosecutors told the court. "She told him that
wasn't going to happen and was attempting to get into her door,"
the prosecutor told the court. The defendant was blocking access
to the card key [reader] she needed to use." He followed her
into the dorm and up the stairs. "She repeatedly told him that
he was not going to come in," the document states. "The
defendant kept telling her that it's his choice; she did not have
input into that decision." Outside her room he threw her against
the wall, pushed her dress and grabbed her buttocks. He also began
kissing her, the prosecutor said.
"[She] told him to leave [and] was struggling to get away from
him," the documents said.
She managed to open the door to her suite, but did not shut it in
time to prevent [the assailant] from following her inside. "Once
she was inside, although annoyed that the defendant was still there,
because she was a friend of the defendant, [she] wasn't particularly
frightened," the prosecutor said. "She told him to leave;
she was going to bed."
She lay down fully clothed on the bed and began to doze off. "She
next became aware that [the assailant] had removed all of his clothing
and had gotten into bed with her," the document reads. Once
in bed with her, he proceeded to sexually assault her, though the
court document does not describe any penetration. Some time later,
the prosecutor said, [the assailant] left the bed.
"These are essentially the facts as they relate to this incident,
Your Honor, although the incident continued," the prosecutor
said. The prosecutor said the woman assaulted by [the assailant]
found a handwritten note under her door the next day apologizing
"for pressuring her, forcing her to engage in these activities."
"On April 20, she had another conversation with the defendant
in which he again admitted that he had not been under the influence
of alcohol, that he had forced her to do things she had not wanted
to do and apologized," the prosecutor told the court."
Was this rape? The victim thought so. The perpetrator admitted to
the rape to Harvard's Administrative Board. The Board also found
that a rape had been committed. But the ensuing discussion over
whether to punish him with expulsion (permanent separation from
the College), dismissal (separation from the College but with a
slight possibility of re-entry), or withdrawal (a temporary separation,
typically lasting one year) is revealing and gives us a good context
in which to assess our conceptions of rape.
The Board eventually voted to dismiss the assailant 119-19 (expulsion
was never really considered as an option and has typically only
been enacted in cases of admissions fraud), but a small contingent
was advocating the lesser punishment of withdrawal. According to
the Crimson, some of the Faculty had trouble "determining degrees
of consent and miscommunication between [the assailant] and the
woman he assaulted." Some "still had questions about the
force with which the woman refused [his] advances-whether she sent
nonverbal signals which may have blurred any clear message about
consent." Some observers argued that "the woman's behavior
had created an ambiguous situation prior to the assault" and
the situation was called "hazy" - "It was friends
who were together. He may have assumed one thing and she another."
Lastly, a senior administrator said that "several people supporting
the requirement to withdraw held the position 'that it was consensual.'"
If this type of debate ensued despite the fact that the assailant
had confessed to rape, one must wonder what would have happened
if he had denied the accusation.
But the facts of the case seem clear. She told him "no"
when he wanted to come inside her dormitory. She told him "no"
when he wanted to enter her room, to which he repeatedly replied
that "she did not have input into that decision." And
she was asleep when he began to assault her. What kind of conception
of consent is held by our society that leaves room to question whether
this was a case of rape?
With these questions in mind, take a look at the following cases.
Please note that many of these articles include descriptions of
violent acts. At http://www.digitas.harvard.edu/~perspy/old/issues/1999/feb/rape.shtml,
you'll find two interviews with women who were raped on campus at
Harvard and were mistreated by and disappointed in the administration's
disciplinary procedures. A recent Washington Post article provides
another example of a victim's dissatisfaction with her university's
disciplinary decisions. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A33160-2002Mar3.html)
In "Campus Rape Ignored . . . . . Even When There's a Videotape,"
NOW's Cindy Hanford briefly describes several other university assaults
that went unpunished (http://www.now.org/nnt/fall-99/campus.html).
Discussions about rates of sexual assault on campuses often lead
to questions about the role of fraternities. Although sexual assault
continues to occur outside fraternities (Harvard, for example, has
no discernible Greek life; all of the Harvard assaults mentioned
above occurred in dorm rooms), fraternities often promote a culture
that further intensifies and concentrates the potential for and
prevalence of rape. The following in-depth discussion of a recent
scandal at Dartmouth College provides a powerful example of the
ways in which fraternities can promote a rape culture.
Dartmouth College's fraternities have often occupied a space in
the public dialogue. From the school's representation in the popular
movie "Animal House" to Chi Gamma Epsilon's 1998 "ghetto
party," which encouraged undergrads to come clad in 'ghetto'
attire, much of Dartmouth's Greek culture has proven to be steeped
in problematic sexist and racist practices. (For a historical perspective
on Greek culture at Dartmouth, see http://www.alum.dartmouth.org/classes/81/notes/nyt11.0.99.htm).
These incidents are not simply relics of Dartmouth's past. As recently
as February, 2001, the Dartmouth College newspaper reported that
members of the Psi Upsilon fraternity shouted racist and sexist
remarks at a pedestrian (see http://www.thedartmouth.com/article.php?aid=200102220104).
However, the most recent Dartmouth fraternity scandal captured
national attention and drew scrutiny to the problems underpinning
Greek culture at Dartmouth. In May, 2001, a Dartmouth student found
copies of the Zeta Psi fraternity's weekly newsletter, The Sigma
Report. The newsletter contained "gratuitous Cancun porn,"
discussed the sexual acts of particular female students, and, most
egregiously, promised to include "patented date rape techniques"
in a subsequent issue. Please note that the following links contain
explicit and offensive material: http://thedartmouth.com/floater.php?pid=20010418010003
Reports indicated that the student first learned of the newsletters
when a fraternity member showed them to her. When the student learned
that the newsletters were still being published, she managed to
get a copy of the newsletter and to show it to Dartmouth administrators
Controversial discussion followed the discovery of the newsletters.
While one hundred Dartmouth faculty members signed a letter expressing
the dismay at a campus culture where "female students and students
suffer from institutionalized practices of sexist
and racist humiliation that fester largely unabated within secret
fraternity culture," students were ostensibly divided about
how the college should respond to the discovery of the letters.
(for a copy of the faculty letter, see http://thedartmouth.com/article.php?aid=200105030106
. Some members of Zeta Psi insisted that the newsletters were
intended to be "humor, satire, and parody" and that the
newsletters were "private Communications" never intended
to be made public (see http://thedartmouth.com/article.php?aid=200105110201).
These Brothers assured members of the Dartmouth community that the
references to "date rape techniques" were humor since
the Brother who was discussed was "the nicest guy" and
someone who "would never date rape ever." (http://www.dartreview.com/issues/5.7.01/sigma.html).
In fact, one graduate student described the Zeta Psi incident as
boys sitting around being boys
They are not all
that mature. It's an internal newsletter that was not intended for
the general public. It was satire." (See http://rutlandherald.nybor.com/New?Story/24737.html).
Other members of the community were appreciative of the administration's
decision to de-recognize the fraternity and were supportive of a
more comprehensive institutional response to the pervasive problem
of sexist and racist practices in Dartmouth's Greek culture (see
In fact, in an article in Dartmouth's newspaper, a student declared,
"The Greek system is classist, homophobic, misogynist, and
racist; it must be abolished." (see http://thedartmouth.com/article.php?aid=200104240202).
On May 11, 2001, Dartmouth College closed the Zeta Psi fraternity.
The Dean of the College wrote in a letter to the Dartmouth community
that "Zeta Psi prepared and distributed, on at least three
occasions, 'newsletters' intended to be humorous. Those newsletters,
however, specifically targeted fellow students for abusive comments
of a demeaning nature. While these 'newsletters' were intended to
be kept secret, they in fact came to the attention of some of the
victims. This was the second significant instance of such institutionalized
misconduct; in 1987, the organization's recognition was suspended
for a year for similar behavior." (See http://www.dartmouth.edu/~news/releases/may01/jl511.html).
However, one Dartmouth newspaper recently reported that the fraternity
continues to function and to recruit new members. Because the fraternity
house is privately owned, it is outside of the school's jurisdiction.
1. What does it mean that the language of rape was cloaked in humor
by some members of the Zeta Psi community?
2. How do claims of 'not being able to take a joke' or accusations
of hypersensitivity work to keep women (and racial minorities) in
3. Do fraternities necessarily reinscribe gender and racial hierarchies?
Is it possible to imagine "Greek culture" in a way that
would not bolster male entitlement?
to the Discussion Board
Return to VAW Module I