The “Safe Sister” Seminar held last Wednesday by the Women’s Resource Center helped tackle safety issues for sorority women on Tech’s campus. The event was designed to train sorority women to help them understand different types of sexual assault and violence and to explore concepts of consent, power and gender relations on campus.
Beyond that, the training functioned as a sort of therapy for those who have dealt with sexual abuse and for those who suffer from negative stereotypes about women in sororities.
“I think it’s important for us to educate ourselves about our policies on campus and the student code of conduct…but beyond that it’s important because students are learning how to navigate the boundaries of a healthy relationships in college, and having a space where we can discuss what healthy relationships look like as we talk about alcohol and sexual activity is really important for issues like consent,” said Melanie Demaeyer, Program Coordinator for the Women’s Resource Center.
Several students who were present expressed the importance of events such as this one for clarifying the definition of sexual abuse, as well as to combat negative perceptions about sorority women and the double standard in the portrayal of women on college campus.
For example, images were shown during the seminar that contrasted the sexualized images of sororities that pop culture portrays with the true reasons sororities exist.
Those in attendance seemed frustrated that students overlook the humanitarian and academic foundations of sororities and focus instead on the social aspects, specifically in interactions with fraternities.
“‘Safe Sister’ is specific to sororities, and is about creating a community of women that can support survivors of sexual assault and teach them about resources on campus for themselves and for their friends,” Demaeyer said.
Another issue that seemed personally relevant to Tech sorority sisters was the definition of sexual abuse with regards to internet communication and stalking.
The seminar expanded the definition of sexual abuse to include a wide range of behaviors from inappropriate internet communication and texting to following women and making lewd or suggestive comments. With this definition, more than seventy percent of women at Tech polled responded that they have faced this kind of sexual abuse at some point in their lives.
So much of the fight against sexual abuse is about women knowing when they are in danger. It is crucial to know where to draw the line between what behavior can be considered acceptable and what is unacceptable, but that is an issue that male students should also be aware of.
“We understand that men are allies in this work, and it’s important for them to advocate with one another about developing healthy relationships. We have co-ed and gender specific programs for that,” Demaeyer said.