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  • Writer's pictureIsa Luzarraga

“What if it was you”: A Nebraskan student body’s movement to dismantle campus rape culture

“…and after he was done, he threw her on the lawn.” Students around campus describe the assault to one another. Women clutch their keys like weapons. Many take detours around Greek row. They fear the vulnerability that comes with nightfall. They prepare for the worst.

On Tuesday, August 24th, a 17-year-old female student from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was raped by a member of the UNL’s chapter of fraternity Phi Gamma Delta. Reports from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Police Department (UNLPD) detail the woman getting picked up by a friend and escorted to a local hospital. She talked with authorities after receiving medical attention.

Following this incident, thousands have been advocating for the termination of UNL’s chapter of Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) across social media and in the streets of Lincoln.

In a statement released by the fraternity, members said they were working closely with police to investigate the matter.

“We take these allegations very seriously as they absolutely do not meet our fraternity’s code of conduct,” Phi Gamma Delta stated.

By Wednesday night, Fiji’s fraternity house was surrounded by protestors supporting the survivor and demanding accountability. Composed of UNL students and other individuals, the protests have continued every night since.

“Even my dog understands when I say no” was emblazoned in red across some signs, while the demonstrators chanted, “No means no.” While UNL chancellor Ronnie Green has since announced the closing and suspension of the fraternity house, many students are insisting on the permanent termination of the chapter’s operations.

“After this has become national news, I feel like UNL should feel obligated to shut it down,” UNL freshman Emma Cavalier said. “Seeing the feelings it’s brought out from everyone and how many assaults have happened in that house is disgusting. I don’t know why it wasn’t shut down before.”

Following the sexual assault report, Fiji’s history was scrutinized with many noting their suspension back in 2017 for alcohol abuse, hazing, and sexual harassment. A Title IX investigation was also conducted the same year in response to a Fiji member’s actions at the Women’s Rights March in Lincoln.

Sophomore Rose Felice is the creator of the growing Instagram account @shutdownfiji and petition, using the platforms to demand accountability from UNL and the fraternity. She and other students have said this is only one incident in a series of sexual assaults that have occurred at the hands of Fiji members. According to UNL’s crime database, in the past five years, 141 sex offenses have been reported and logged as crimes. 12 of those offenses were recorded as happening at fraternity houses, two at Phi Gamma Delta.

Felice said she was initially worried the movement would lose momentum, and she remembers creating the petition while at the first night of protests.

“I saw the police officers out there… and I could see one of the officers was upset, and I asked her, ‘What can I do to make sure this doesn’t die?’ And she said, ‘I don’t know, a petition?’”

The petition calls for the permanent removal of UNL’s chapter of Phi Gamma Delta.

The 19-year-old created the Instagram account that same night, directing people to the page for information relating to Phi Gamma Delta’s history of infractions and suspensions from the University.

The petition Felice started has now received over 400,000 signatures worldwide.

One anonymous signee of the movement’s petition said the following regarding UNL’s chapter, “I was raped in the Fiji house last year. The trauma and pain I suffered that night [are] still present in my life today. My hope is that this house is shut down forever so that no more innocent victims fall prey to these disgusting men.”

Felice didn’t expect the movement to gain support and attention nationally, and she has received threats and hatred online and on campus. Still, she remains steadfast in her activism.

“This isn’t just a local issue,” Felice said. “This is a systematic university issue, and it also applies to [chapters] around the country. There’s a lack of accountability, they [UNL] just want to throw the Big Red rug over it and pretend it’s not there.”

Besides a current reckoning on campus, the movement has caused alumni to reflect on their experiences at UNL and within its Greek system.

Stephanie Watson, the wellness director at Omaha Integrative Care and adjunct professor at Metropolitan Community College, remembers the UNL Fiji chapter when she was at school in the early ’90s.

“[One of the fraternity members] supposedly raped a girl in the house, who was a sister of another person in the house,” Watson said. “It was said that she was passed out, that she was drunk. I remember feeling super creeped out and scared.”

Watson’s niece is a current UNL student and both were frustrated when rumors circulated throughout campus that the incident was consensual, discrediting the survivor’s report.

“What would be the motive for a 17-year-old girl to say any of this?” Watson said. “The work [that needs to be done] isn’t just looking into what’s been going on at Lincoln or at the chapters. It’s ingrained in our culture at a fundamentally deep level.”

Meanwhile, the demonstrations continue. Cavalier detailed a night when protestors and survivors pasted sticky notes over the Nebraska Union building, sharing their stories of recovery and demands of the University.

“Before we even start school, we have to go through Title IX training,” Cavalier said. “But how much does one course of Title IX training do? Because it was the first day of school when this happened, and then within 24 hours there was another case of rape. It all comes to it just not being talked about enough.”

According to The Lincoln Journal Star, the reported rape at the Fiji house was the 78th incident of sexual assault on UNL’s campus since 2015.

“At this point, if Chancellor Ronnie Green doesn’t shut down Fiji completely, we’re going to assume he does not care for the safety of female students,” UNL freshman Brooklyn Hurr said. “Men, no, boys, like that need to know that this behavior is not okay and [they] need to have more than just temporary consequences like probation. How many girls have to suffer before the right action is taken?”

A week following the reported rape at Fiji, UNL’s chapter of Sigma Chi placed themselves on self-suspension after a woman reported being sexually assaulted by a member of the fraternity early Monday morning Aug. 30. Of the 78 reported rapes on UNL’s campus since 2015, 47 progressed to criminal investigations and 31 were reported by the University’s Title IX office according to The Lincoln Journal Star and UNL. An active Title IX case against UNL was filed by nine women in 2020 who experienced “sex discrimination, including rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and/or stalking, perpetrated by male UNL students” according to the case’s record.

Hurr and others attended protests throughout the week and recalled members of the crowd receiving a video from inside the fraternity house via AirDrop.

“There was a video going around of the Fiji boys laughing at our protest from inside their house. It was extremely frustrating to watch, yet only fueled us even more,” Hurr said.

She and other female students continue to reflect regarding their safety on campus. A classmate being assaulted on one of the first days of college only affirms their fears.

“I will not walk by myself after dark. I will not be alone,” Cavalier said. “All the frats and sororities are mixed, so you don’t know if it’s a sorority, or if it’s a frat that you’re walking by. I can’t even put into words the thoughts that go through my head when I’m walking past a group of guys. I shouldn’t feel intimidated but I do.”

Still, she and others remain determined to see their demands through and justice acquired. They march and yell in search of days when women can walk home unafraid of who could be following in the dark.

“The more attention this story gets, the more pressure is put on Chancellor Green to stand with the people rather than protecting the rapists,” Hurr said. “The reputation of this campus is all up to how he handles it. Fiji doesn’t have to reflect UNL as a whole if he doesn’t let it happen. If he doesn’t do anything about it, we will only get louder and stronger. At some point, he’s going to have to realize that there’s no way out of it this time.”

Nearby, University of Iowa students began their own petition demanding their chapter of Fiji be shut down. Other universities nationwide have started their own demonstrations in response to continued social media activism. Together, students like Felice, Cavalier, and Hurr are holding their communities accountable, determined to transform a toxic environment that has persisted for too long.

Photograph by Will Ramsey.

Story originally published in Keke Magazine.


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