What Greek chapter are you a part of, and what was your position?
Alpha Tau Omega, I was chapter president.
What are your thoughts on rape culture in Greek societies? Does it mimic cultures outside of the organization, or do you believe it has a culture of its own?
First of all, an important thing to recognize is that what we see on TV, in movies, and news stations can have a direct effect on what people think about the Greek system. Not only people outside of the Greek system, but those interested in entering the Greek system. So, someone who has watched movies such as Animal House, or have seen other things on TV, they may think that this is what it means to be a fraternity man.
If they do go through the process and join the Greek system, they now bring that culture in. As my chapter’s president, I have often said that it is important that we watch out for those people who are trying to enter the system, and make it clear that this is not what we are about. So, I don’t think it’s something innate in the Greek system, I think it’s individual people who bring it in and foster this environment.
Regarding making sure people understand expectations, what they can and cannot do, what are some specific rules in place?
In Alpha Tau Omega, we have a non-negotiable standard—if someone going through recruitment only talks about partying or drinking, that’s a red flag that their priorities are not in check.
We also have a zero tolerance policy in ATO, meaning that if a member is accused of sexual assault, their membership is immediately put under review, and if they are convicted they will automatically be kicked out. When I was president, unfortunately, we had to kick out and black-out a member. Being “blacked-out” from the house means that you are not welcome in the house nor our events. This sets a precedence in the house that we do not tolerate sexual assault. I’m going to be honest with you: many times making this decision is harder than it should be. These people were your friends. It’s not an easy culture to start, but it’s an important thing to do, and I think that as a Greek system, every single fraternity needs to set the standard that we will not compromise on this issue.
You spoke about red flags and how to spot them (in the case of someone being too focused on partying)—what are some red flags that you have observed in terms of members perpetuating rape culture?
It starts with the small things, for example if somebody is calling a woman out of her name, calling her the ‘B’ word. While those seem very small and a lot of people will laugh at that stuff, it sets a foundation to build upon. So, when you hear those things it’s important to step in and say “she has a name.” It starts with getting them to recognize that this is a person, not an object; this is a person, not the butt of a joke. When you start implementing this idea that you need to value the people you talk about as people, this gets them to think about who they’re talking about and how their words and actions can affect that person. The red flags are often the things we try to overlook, or simply cringe and move on; but if it made you cringe, it can become something bigger down the line.
Regarding the situation you mentioned where as chapter president, you had to make the decision to remove someone from the house—was this an incident that you could have in any way foreseen, or did it surprise you that a member could have committed sexual assault?
Looking back on it, we could have been more vigilant. This person showed a lot of great potential and values, but at the end of the day their choices proved otherwise. When this person was kicked out of the house, they had not been convicted of anything; it had not been brought to the university yet. This decision comes back to our non-negotiable policy. They had been accused, and there were multiple witnesses. For us, it was important to ensure that we were protecting our image as a fraternity, but also making sure that we were protecting that culture in that house, to show members that we do not stand for sexual assault. ATO was a relatively new fraternity, so we had the unique opportunity to create the culture. I think it can be more difficult to make change within a well-established house.
Cameron Burleson is the current Student Government Association Vice President and former president of Alpha Tau Omega, which won the President’s Trophy for outstanding Greek chapters in 2017. He is a Senior studying Pre-Law Political Science at the University of Oklahoma.