Amending the Sig Ep mess

The Vermont chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon was cleared last week for the crimes of perpetuating rape culture and misogyny, though it may be cold comfort for its former members.

In a mass email to the UVM community, Thomas Gustafson synthesized the findings of a nine month investigation into a single line former Sig Ep brothers already knew was true: Sig Ep as an organization was not found responsible for the deplorable question that ignited a firestorm last December.

The question read: If I could rape anyone, who would it be? and was written by an individual member of Sigma Phi Epsilon on a questionnaire that he then accidently sent to his T.A.

Quickly, the story was circulated among feminist groups on campus where it generated a tremendous uprising of anger and disbelief that was reported on extensively by local, national and even international news sources. The question was and remains disgusting, hateful and inexcusable. The author of the question displayed incredible ignorance, severely misogynistic tendencies and a need for help.

But it was the act of an individual, and was not the fraternity-wide survey it was reported to be.

So if the Sig Ep brothers knew the question was the work of an individual and not a reflection of their views and practices as an organization, why didnt the general public have that information?

The answer is a complete lack of transparency on the part of the Sigma Phi Epsilon National Fraternity. The national governing body quickly swept in and silenced the UVM chapter, ending any chance for self-defense. Then they made an equally swift decision to cut ties with the young men by closing their chapter, leaving them to absorb the blows of massive public outrage alone.

In a matter of days, the young men at Sig Ep lost their charter, their brothers and, for some, even their house. They were dragged through the mud and cast as supporters of rape, women haters who supported the very worst values of a patriarchal society.

Now, an email sent to students and faculty did address the fact that the former fraternity may have committed other infractions. The matter remains under investigation and there are few details. These infractions could end up being reprehensible, or they could amount to nothing. We simply do not know.

But based on the available evidence, for the last nine months these young men have worn a mantle they did not deserve. We owe them an apology a sincere one.