Greek Representatives Seek to Prevent Low Level Harassment

Greek students are working with the Associated Students of Whitman College and administrators to fight sexual harassment in casual social settings. A committee composed of Sexual Misconduct Victims Advocate Barbara Maxwell, sophomore Molly Unsworth and senior Katie Steen, and one member from each Greek organization on campus has spent the past eighteen months brainstorming ways to address harassment in casual social settings. The result is an informal reporting system in which conversations rather than punitive measures are used to educate and alter troubling behavior.

Dialogue is at the center of this system. Under the new system, complaints of harassment that do not rise to the level of Title IX reporting can start conversations within Greek organizations.

When a member of a Greek organization has an incident to report, he or she can discuss the matter with a representative who belongs to his or her Greek organization. That representative will then communicate with the representative of the organization to which the reported perpetrator belongs. The second representative, in turn, will speak with the perpetrator, explain why the behavior was inappropriate, and discourage him or her from repeating the behavior.

“A lot of people have seen a lot of lower-level inappropriate behavior get [dismissed] and people are feeling a little uncomfortable,” said sophomore Kendall Dunovant, the Philanthropy Chair and sexual violence prevention representative for women’s fraternity Kappa Alpha Theta. “So, little things like when you’re in a really crowded space and someone will come and grab you by the waist and move you over. To them, that might seem really mundane and just trivial, but for the person that’s having the behavior done to them, that’s very uncomfortable and jarring.”

Barbara Maxwell is clear about separating the new informal system from more formal misconduct mechanisms such as Title IX reporting. The student reporting project functions as an intermediate step meant to spur change in the campus culture around inappropriate behavior.

“Our hope … is that they are dealing with low-level … unwanted kinds of behaviors with the hope that if we make it really clear that we are not going to tolerate these low-level behaviors that it makes it … clear we’re certainly not going to tolerate anything above and beyond that,” said Maxwell, “And we’re going to do something about it.”

Each Greek organization has one representative who is available to receive complaints, either anonymously or in person. However, Greek organizations are also trying to create a cultural shift within social environments.

“One thing we’ve been happy about at TKE is how much people have been willing to really embrace it and kind of make it just part of the culture right away,” said Tau Kappa Epsilon’s representative, senior Connor Hood. “Because we didn’t want to have to fight an uphill battle [since] some of the things we’ve done at TKE … could annoy people, like [asking for Whitman IDs].”

Although student representatives are working with administrators like Barbara Maxwell to brainstorm and execute ideas, that does not compromise their ability to maintain confidentiality.

“None of us are mandated reporters and that’s another thing that we want to emphasize with our Greek affiliates … we are not going to give your information to Juli Dunn or Barbara Maxwell or any administrative force, unless you specifically ask us to do that,” said Dunovant.

Steen, ASWC’s Sexual Misconduct Prevention Advocate, has represented independent students in the process of developing an informal reporting system.

“I think that this could really be a great step … [towards] keeping people accountable and also really putting our emphasis on the perpetrators–which is something that oftentimes doesn’t get done in sexual violence prevention, but really needs to be the emphasis,” Steen said. “People who are socialized to believe that this kind of behavior is appropriate … are the people we need to be talking to and reaching out to, and this system really gets at that.”

Despite it’s anticipated effectiveness in the Greek system, both Maxwell and Steen worry that the benefits of the program may not extend cleanly to independent students.

“When you’re non-Greek, it’s hard to figure out … how to make it work,” said Maxwell, “So if people had ideas for it, we’d totally be open to it…Like I think off-campus houses, if they wanted to put a group together, I think that would be ideal. I think it’s harder to put other groups together because there’s less that binds them together.”

For now, Steen will serve as the sexual violence prevention contact for independent students. As open as she is to all concerns, Steen often worries that there fewer resources for independent students.

“I think it’s important to note that one of the main components of the Greek system is that [Greek students] talk to someone they know very well and they trust and I’m not necessarily that person for every independent student,” said Steen.

Moving forward, there will be more conversations about how to refine the system in a way that makes it an option for all students. Now that the option to make an informal complaint has been made public, they hope students will feel comfortable voicing their concerns. But the committee still has room to grow.

“What we talked about that was what [should we] do with repeat offenders?” Hood said. “Because on one hand, the confidentiality of it and kind of keeping it contained makes it hard,” he continued. “This would definitely be something to work on in this semester and the coming semesters–how to take it from a good tool to something we can actually start enforcing and making decisions with.”