cw: racist language, fetishization, sexual harassment, graphic description of sexual violence
Reminder: Penn Women’s Center, LGBT Center, and Penn Violence Prevention (PVP) are confidential resources for those that would like to talk with a professional.
by: Coalition Against Fraternity Sexual Assault (CAFSA)
The allocation of physical space on our university’s campus highlights Penn’s real priorities. By placing fraternities on Locust Walk, Penn is not only accepting and institutionalizing harmful messages of toxic masculinity, wealth, and cultural hegemony, but positioning them at the literal center of campus. Meanwhile, Penn’s cultural centers are hidden in the basement of ARCH ,and Penn Violence Prevention is blocks away, creating a physical barrier to vital student resources. It is clear that Penn’s administration prioritizes privilege over marginalized voices.
The Coalition Against Fraternity Sexual Assault (CAFSA) was created to bring light to the discrimination and violence perpetuated by fraternities and challenge the notion that they are entitled to the space they occupy on Locust Walk. Since CAFSA’s formation, current and former students have been invited to submit testimonies sharing their stories of discrimination, sexual violence or harassment during their time at Penn. Since the launch of the testimony form in mid-October 2019, CAFSA has received stories from current students and alumni, the vast majority of which have been tied closely to fraternity houses or fraternity life. Statistics from the 2019 AAU Campus Climate Survey confirm that the single most frequent location of sexual violence on campus was fraternity houses.
CAFSA demands that fraternities be removed from their on-campus locations, including any fraternity on campus grounds from 33rd to 40th Street and between Walnut and Spruce, to be replaced with cultural and wellness centers. This will affirm marginalized students and emphasize their importance to campus life, instead of rewarding the offensive and degrading behavior frequently performed by fraternity brothers. CAFSA’s mission is to increase the well-being of all students on our campus, because no student should feel unsafe on Locust Walk.
CAFSA is tackling deep-seated issues that Penn administration has ignored for decades. From alumni testimonies and records, our campus has long been the site of discomfort, discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual violence. Penn has recently attempted to implement several programs to deal with issues of sexual violence and discrimination. Penn’s Counseling and Psychologial Services (CAPS) has created programs like the STTOP (Sexual Trauma Treatment Outreach and Prevention) team to provide resources for people of color and sexual violence survivors. Programming within cultural spaces such as MAKUU, La Casa Latina, and PAACH has expanded through the work of student groups and staff.
However, such change took years to implement, was driven by student advocacy and protest, and often happened in spite of administrative pushback. Several students who use the cultural centers have argued that the centers are understaffed. Providing more space for cultural groups is the first step towards changing the culture on campus to increase the visibility and commitment to minority students.
CAFSA has been collecting testimonies from the Penn community in order to uplift the voices which Penn has ignored. Our website and social media catalogues some of the testimonies we have received, which are censored to protect survivors. These cover a wide range of experiences, not only the experiences of sexual assault but also racism, discrimination, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry.
In order to rectify the harm that has been done to members of the Penn community, CAFSA demands that the University implement measures to prevent fraternities from holding undue power and reaffirm the prioritization of student services. A complete list of the demands are available on CAFSA’s website.
It is unacceptable that Penn students feel scared when we walk to our dorms late at night. It is unacceptable that we hear fellow students hurtle insensitive and harmful comments at us as we walk to class. It is unacceptable that the Penn administration refuses to act.
CAFSA represents a movement that belongs to all of us. We are reclaiming our buildings, our spaces, our home. This campus belongs to us, and we deserve to feel that we belong to it. All students should feel safe on Locust Walk.
If you or a friend would like to share your experience of discrimination or sexual violence/harassment, click here. NOTE: this can include more than you think; i.e. sexual harassment, racism, homophobia, classism, etc.
If you agree with CAFSA’s message, and would like to show your support, please sign the CAFSA Community Coalition here.
If your affiliated club agrees with CAFSA’s message, and would like to show your support as a Coalition member, please contact CAFSApenn@gmail.com.
Illustration: Diane Lin is an illustrator and art editor for F-Word magazine. She is a junior majoring in Economics and minoring in Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.