Texas Tech’s Run-In with Rape Culture

4495746432_61dff2c41b_oLocated in northwest Texas, the city of Lubbock is home to Texas Tech University and its 33,000 students—plus an all-too-familiar campus rape problem.

Over the weekend of September 20, images from a party hosted by the Texas Epsilon Chapter of Phi Delta Theta were leaked to the website Total Frat Move. The first image showed a statue of a woman’s legs spread open with a garden sprinkler in between, and the second showed a sign on a wooden boat that read “No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal.”

Following the photo leak, the university and the fraternity’s national office began an investigation into both the event and the frat chapter. Their response was swift and thorough: On September 23, Phi Delta Theta was suspended from Texas Tech. As of Monday, any frat members who were directly involved in the event or in positions of leadership have been removed from the fraternity. The chapter’s members will also complete a total of 10,000 total hours of community service “dedicated to rape crisis and sexual assault prevention.” Texas Tech President Duane Nellis and Chancellor Robert Duncan also formed a Greek Organization Task Force to better evaluate and manage Greek life on campus.

While this is encouraging—and the school should be commended for its quick response—students and faculty insist that more needs to be done to change the campus’ rape culture.

For example, according to Sophia Dominguez, president of the school’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance chapter, Texas Tech outsources sexual violence survivor care to hospitals and the local rape crisis center—despite the fact that the school has its own counseling center and health services center. That means it keeps poor or no record of sexual assaults that happen on campus, which violates the Clery Act. Plus, Texas Tech doesn’t require mandatory sexual assault prevention education for students, something that’s becoming more common on other campuses.

In early October, a group of faculty came together and penned an opinion column in the university’s Daily Toreador. They wrote:

The slogan being parodied—“no means no”—reflects an all-too-real, ongoing problem of non-consensual sex, sexual violence and misogyny on U.S. campuses and in U.S. culture at large. As a community we need to ask ourselves how it can come about that our young men, men whom it is our job to educate, can find such entertainment in this kind of ridicule.

Women of TTU, an anonymous group of students, also responded on October 1 by spray-painting bed sheets with the message “No Means No” and draping the sheets over the campus’ most popular statues. The group also created the hashtag #TTUNoMeansNo, which has been adopted and promoted by various student organizations.

The Tech Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance (Tech FMLA) has held numerous meetings with students, faculty and community members to address the campus’ rape culture. They have helped plan campus events, such as Take Back the Night, One Billion Rising and The Vagina Monologues, with the goal of not only informing the community about women’s issues but making the problem of rape culture more widely known on campus.

There is some support from Lubbock residents for the students’ actions, but anti-rape activists have faced backlash: At the fourth annual SlutWalk Lubbock march on Sept. 27, men sitting outside at college bars interrupted the rally to harass protesters. Dominguez recalls the men yelling, “Rape more bitches!” at those marching.

Outraged, Dominguez met with the Dean of Students after SlutWalk. She was somewhat encouraged by the Dean’s response: 

[The Dean’s office is] in agreement that there is room for improvement. However, there is also an air of sheer denial that Texas Tech has failed to offer a safe environment and the proper resources. It is very clear that it is up to women and men to demand change. What is most evident in light of these recent events is this: Rape culture is prevalent, as well as promoted, in this community. … One student defended the fraternity’s actions, telling me she believed the images to be ‘funny.’ When questioned on this, her reply was that, ‘I have never been raped and I am not going to be raped. I thought it was funny.’ Women, especially feminists, in this community are labeled as overly sensitive, pessimistic and bullies. We are set back before we even begin fighting for gender equality and a safe campus environment.

But Charlotte Dunham, as associate professor of sociology at Texas Tech, sees change on the horizon:

I am encouraged by a lot of things that are happening here, including the work of the Dean of Student’s Office on making changes on policy toward sexual assault. We have gone from virtually nothing to the implementation of programs that I think eventually will make things better. I am also encouraged by the fact that the university has a gender equity council that is active and will be making recommendations to the university president. I am also encouraged that our students are being activists and stepping up and speaking out. We haven’t had a lot of that over the years, and I see this as an unintended consequence of the controversy.

“I don’t think that our problems are different than any other large university in Texas, and there may be some who are worse,” concludes Dominguez. She adds,

The attitude toward gender studies and feminism in Texas is pretty grim among the general population, but the university is supportive of women’s studies. We still have to know how to operate in a ‘red state’ environment that doesn’t allow us to be quite as open as in other places or to address some of the issues we would like to.

To the students at Texas Tech who have been affected—and mobilized—by the recent events, we send our support, solidarity and encouragement.

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Vardeman licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

About

Brianna Kovan is a reader and writer from the Midwest. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English.