social change

It’s time to talk about it: AU and EI

Alright, alright, alright. It’s time to talk about this. I tried to avoid it, but the more conversation we have around this issue, the better. For about the last week, students on American University’s campus have been buzzing with furry over beyond vulgar messages leaked by an anonymous source regarding an unrecognized organization called Epsilon Iota (EI).

*If you would like to read some of the 70 pages from listservs and texts, you can read The Fratergate AU, which highlights some of them. However, do understand that by clicking and reading, you will encounter some seriously disturbing conversations that can be triggers, so read at your own risk.*

Let’s get this straight. According to the University, “Epsilon Iota – Also referred to as EI is the former Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) chapter that was closed both by the University and Alpha Tau Omega headquarters in March 2001.The fraternity lost university and national fraternity recognition for serious policy violations which involved hazing and alcohol abuse. Upon loss of recognition, members of this group formed this unrecognized organization.”

It’s common knowledge on AU’s campus that EI is the “frat” to stay away from during Welcome Week and throughout the year. As a freshman girl, you’re told that they put date rape drugs in their jungle juice and that you’re more likely to be raped there than any other frat. (Keep in mind, EI is NOT a recognized frat, however, they are still referred to in that manner. It is even rumored that they are recognized as a gang by DC police). On campus, they have a reputation for being the “bad” guys. However, let me be clear in saying that I do not believe that every single person in EI is a terrible person. Instead, what I believe is that group mentality gets the best of the members of this group, time and time again. Let’s face it, group mentality is like a bowling ball rolling down hill: easy to start and difficult to stop, especially individually.

Now, I’m not going to blame this on group mentality though, because I wish that someone would have stood up. Sure, not every member in the group may have participated in actually saying these atrocious things, but when you see them written down in an email, I question how not one person spoke up. It’s one thing to do it, but if you either see it being done or hear about it and don’t say anything, it’s silent consent. (I will acknowledge that there was one set of emails exchanged where a guy stood up and said that it was unacceptable to hit women. However, later in the email train it’s discussed as to how they are going to cover up the fact that this incident happened.)

But here’s my issue with the way we are looking at this entire situation. EI is not the only group behaving this way, they’re just the only ones who are documented. I don’t have written proof that this is happening within other organizations on campus, however it is hard for me to believe that EI are the only ones. They also might be the most extreme case, but it’s not to say that other groups don’t talk to each other this way. Our culture has come to condone men talking down to women: calling them bitches, whores, “easy”, etc. We joke about rape and sexual assault and it’s simply not okay. These messages between the guys in EI are proof that change needs to occur. On AU’s campus, it’s great that both women and men are outraged by these leaks. But it’s not enough to just be upset by them. It’s time to make a change.

You can sign the petition, No More Silence: Demand Sexual Assault Prevention and Consequences for Epsilon Iota, for change on AU’s campus by clicking here.

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Although I think it is important that the University take action against EI for their actions, I think that is only the first piece of the puzzle. There needs to be a new standard put into place about the rape culture that exists on our campus and there needs to be accountability for those actions. If the correct treatment of women (and men too) is not being taught prior to college, there needs to be education during college to eradicate misconceptions. Men need to learn that treating women well, isn’t an option, it’s a necessity.

In short, although these messages are highly upsetting, they can be used to create social change. I hope that the University understands that this is an issue that needs to be addressed beyond the confines of EI and extended to the entire community. We have an opportunity to change the way in which men are expected to act in groups, and I hope that we use this chance to create a new culture. If this isn’t the time, then I don’t know that it will ever happen.

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Why the Selfie Revolution Has Actually Helped Women

To selfie or not to selfie, that is always the question.

So, you might have heard. Selfie was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year for 2013. However, it’s been around longer than you may think. It all started with MySpace back in the early 2000’s, when you needed a profile picture of you, and only you, so that your “friends” could find you easily. Early 2000 selfies can include but are not limited to awkward early teenage years, bathroom mirrors (don’t forget about the flash reflected in the mirror) and ancient looking cell phones (a Razr or Chocolate if you were cool). However, when Facebook came into the mix and wiped out MySpace, selfies nearly vanished as well. On Facebook, the informal idea was to post photos of yourself, taken by someone else, or to post photos of you and your friends. But with the introduction and popularization of Instagram in late 2010, selfies returned and have evolved to be even bigger than ever anticipated.

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Ellen’s famous Oscar selfie

In today’s world, we are bombarded by pictures. We float between checking our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (selfie city right there) and are constantly stimulated by an exciting, yet deceiving online world. With the introduction of Instagram and Snapchat, selfies became an everyday activity, both privately and publicly.

So, my question is: Is the rise of the selfie into everyday life positively or negatively impacting our culture, specifically for women?

Common arguments like to suggest that taking selfies come from our culture becoming more narcissistic. An article from the Associated Press, for example, points out that, “Beverly Hills, Calif., psychiatrist Carole Lieberman sees narcissism with a capital N. ‘The rise of the selfie is a perfect metaphor for our increasingly narcissistic culture. We’re desperately crying out: Look at me!’” But I don’t see it that way.

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Kim Kardashian: AKA selfie Queen

Taking a cue from Starbucks, the way I see it is that people are using selfies to document the everyday things that happen in life instead of only taking photos at parties, vacations or other “special events”. I mean, when I look back to the pictures of my first year of college, I can honestly say that about 80% are saved snapchats. Of those snapchats, 90% are selfies either of me or my friends. But how special is that? Now, because taking selfies has become so commonplace, it’s socially acceptable to snap a picture of yourself, well, anywhere. We now have recorded evidence of everything: from that run (okay, it was more of a walk, but we can call it a run) that you took yesterday to the scrumptious milkshake you inhaled after said run, we have selfie proof that it happened. But even better than that, another important thing has happened in the selfie revolution, and that is that the emphasis has moved from girls posting pictures of their bodies to posting pictures of their faces. Instead of posting photos of our bodies, sexualizing ourselves for men to ogle us and women to envy us, we are posting our beautiful faces. Who cares if we are duck lipping it (a personal fave) or if we put a filter on it? We are reclaiming the idea that we hold more beauty in our faces than our bodies. Our faces tell a story of where we’ve been and who we are, whether that’s through the dimple in your cheek or the lines on your forehead from when you frown.

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Even Mona Lisa takes selfies 

So, I say take all the selfies you want! We have the power each and everyday to choose how we view the world. You can view selfies as a self centered thing saying, “look at me” or you can choose to understand that there’s more to a selfie than what meets the eye. Take Cancer Research UK for example, who took the selfie fad as an excuse to promote cancer research and inner beauty by having women post selfies with the hashtag #nomakeupselfie. By promoting selfies and teaching young girls that it’s okay to be confident in themselves and take selfies and be proud of the people they are, then we are helping to raise a generation of women who believe that they are enough. We are teaching them that they are not their bodies and that by controlling the way in which the picture is taken, everyone can feel confident and happy with having their picture taken. When we have a generation of women who gravitate towards cameras instead of shying away from them, that’s when I will know that we’ve done our job in creating a generation of women who are happy, confident and understand their worth, both in front of and behind the camera. Until then, keep taking those selfies.

Of course, I couldn’t write this without including my own selfie. So alas, here you go.

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Me at the top of the Empire State building in NYC… couldn’t pass up the opportunity! 

How do you view selfies? Are they empowering, a fad, or just downright ridiculous? I’d love to know what you think! 

UPDATE: This post was featured on Feminspire, so check it out here!