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Sigma Chi president ’embarrassed’ by sexual assault prevention event

Updated: April 13, 2015 at 1:06 a.m.

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Melissa Schapiro.

Student leaders across campus have criticized a sexual assault prevention workshop with Greek life chapters, saying it used problematic language and did not go far enough to teach the audience about the dangers of sexual assault.

Sigma Chi hosted a presentation in Lisner Auditorium on Thursday to educate about 300 members of Greek life, the first time such a large portion of the community has gathered to talk about sexual violence prevention.

But after the event’s keynote speaker made insensitive comments about sexual assault and members of the audience also made inappropriate comments, student leaders said the event missed the mark.

“We’re embarrassed,” said Neil Rosacker, the president of GW’s chapter of Sigma Chi, adding that he takes responsibility for the event.

Mark Howard was the event’s keynote speaker, and began by asking nearly a dozen audience members how often they think about sex. He then asked students to anonymously text words that they associate with having sex, which resulted in inappropriate messages being displayed on the projection screen.

When Howard discussed Title IX and the Clery Act, two landmark pieces of federal legislation meant in part to shape universities’ response to sexual assault and harassment, he apologized for the “boring” information.

Howard told audience members to think about sexual assault as if a female member of their family had been attacked. But several members of the audience later criticized him for implying that sexual assault is only a problem once it becomes personal.

Sigma Chi members began planning the event early in the fall alongside their international organization, and leaders of the chapter said then they hoped it would become an opportunity for Greek life members and all student leaders to talk about sexual assault, how to prevent it and how alcohol factors into decision making.

The Interfraternity Council’s vice president of public relations, Bo Erickson, said the presentation is typically given to individual Sigma Chi chapters, and Thursday was the first time that it has been shown to hundreds of students in an auditorium.

He said the program is in “flux” and that changes need to be made to accommodate a more diverse audience.

“I hope the program will keep growing and keep fostering conversations,” he said.

GW’s chapter of Sigma Chi released a statement Friday saying that the workshop wasn’t what the chapter expected and that it was below the standard for which the GW community strives. The statement also said chapter members did not want Thursday’s event to be the end of the conversation about sexual assault.

“Our chapter is committed to working with our Sigma Chi National Headquarters to improve their sexual misconduct program,” the statement read. “We look forward to working with other student organizations to improve the community and prevent sexual misconduct at GW.”

Panhellenic Association President Mollie Bowman said the program, which was optional for all members of Greek life, was a “wake-up call” and displayed a disconnect between what national chapters think are the reasons for sexual assault and what the solutions are.

She also said the language used during the presentation was insensitive to the possibility that audience members could have been sexual assault survivors themselves.

“This showed me how much more work there is to be done, and next time someone says we’re not the problem, I can say we have a lot longer to go before we’re really a solution,” she said.

Laura Zillman, the vice president of Students Against Sexual Assault, called the presentation “alarming” in an email to the international president of Sigma Chi that was obtained by the Hatchet.

“I know many students besides myself were extremely disappointed, embarrassed, and even angry that this presentation was allowed at GW and hailed as a watershed moment for our Greek community,” she wrote in the email.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Mark Howard is the former president of Sigma Chi’s international organization. We regret this error.

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