Fraternity plans to combat sexual violence culture
Matthew Leibowitz rushed Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, four years ago. At the same time, allegations of a sexual assault a student in different fraternity committed only blocks away from the AEPi house rocked the leafy campus.
Since that time, Wesleyan has been the subject of several more high-profile lawsuits involving sexual assault in its greek community.
One fraternity house was dubbed “The Rape Factory,” and various survivors have come forward demanding millions in reparations.
Driven to action by the memory of what happened in his first year of college, Leibowitz, now a Wesleyan graduate, founded “Consent is So Frat.” The organization strives to promote the importance of consent in greek organizations with photo campaigns, campus events and conversation-starting merchandise.
“The idea here is to focus on how consent can be a fraternal value,” he said.
Leibowitz, Boston, Massachusetts, native and a graduate of Needham High School in Massachusetts, focused a substantial amount of attention on the prevalence of rape culture while he was in college.
Now, as the men’s engagement coordinator at the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Wilmington, Delaware, he focuses full-time on combating violence of all types.
CISF was founded earlier this summer and has spread to over 30 campuses across the United States, including the University of Michigan, American University and Northeastern University, he said.
Rutgers is the newest university slated to jump on board with CISF.
Ezra Nathan, a member of AEPi, was the first student at Rutgers to talk with Leibowitz about expanding CISF to the University.
“I thought it was definitely a great program … I have friends, [and] I have my mom and my sister,” he said. “So [the] kinds of things we’re trying to prevent are things I think about. I wouldn’t want that to happen to my sister — she’s my age.”
Nathan, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, sits on the executive board of AEPi. The idea received unanimous support from all his fraternity brothers and is “full steam ahead.” Nathan expects to start CISF in the next month.
The preliminary plans he has to launch CISF at AEPi include distributing flyers with information about the organization and order T-shirts with the CISF logo printed on them to spread the message around campus.
“You have to treat people right, and I thought it was a great opportunity, being in a fraternity, being on the executive board … I was in a great position to put this campaign into effect,” he said.
CISF also has a campus representative program. Nathan would be Rutgers’ first representative, Leibowitz said.
Leibowitz focused on bystander intervention training given the pervasiveness of campus rape within the greek community.
According to a 2001 National Institute of Justice report, 10.3 percent of sexual assault crimes on college campuses occur within fraternity houses. Similarly, Oklahoma State University researchers conducted a 2013 study that demonstrated a correlation among greek culture, negative attitudes and rape culture.
But another study showed that when bystander intervention training and consent training were appropriately done, greek communities showed less negative attitudes toward sexual assault, Leibowitz said.
They were also less likely to commit sexual assault than non-greek individuals.
Leibowitz has confidence in CISF succeeding, especially at a school like Rutgers that has a prominent greek culture.
[Rutgers] is a big school, it has seen activism,” he said.
JoAnn Arnholt, the director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, encouraged CISF to be a part of the University in conjunction with other anti-sexual violence programs geared toward the greek community.
Several organizations participate in Students Challenging Realities and Educating Against Myths Theater, hosted by the Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance.
Leaders of each respective sorority and fraternity are mandated to participate in a bystander intervention program.
“We don’t want [sexual violence] here at the University at all, so any kind of education we can put in place is positive,” Arnholt said.