Party Ban Is Patronizing, U.Va. Sorority Women Say

Jan 31, 2015
Originally published on February 2, 2015 6:00 pm

Saturday is Boys' Bid Night at the University of Virginia, when fraternities welcome their new members.

Women from U.Va.'s sororities are always invited to join the Boys' Bid Night party, but this year, they're under strict orders from national sorority presidents to stay clear of frat houses. The orders come after a Rolling Stone article about a gang rape at U.Va. that was later discredited.

But the women at U.Va.'s sororities are outraged, calling the ban unnecessary and patronizing.

Students like Sara Surface say the controversy is about much more than a party.

"This is not an issue of we're angry because we can't go out and drink and party," Surface says. "It's an issue over whether or not we have the choice."

Surface admits that Boys' Bid Night sounds risky. She has been active in rape prevention programs on campus and says the progressive party — where women go from one frat house to the next, often drinking at every stop — is actually quite unsafe and that many women and men do take safety measures.

"People are assigned buddies to have them look out for each other," she says. "You stay in groups."

Surface says she has helped to educate hundreds of sorority women about how to intervene in situations where friends are at risk, and thinks parties are safer if sorority members are there. Fellow U.Va. student Sofia McKewen Moreno adds that even the matching tops women wear on Bid Night help protect them.

"They look like we're just trying to show off that we're in sororities, which to some degree I'm sure is true, but when you see a woman in a Tiffany-blue tank-top in the back of the room with a guy that she doesn't know, too drunk, and you're wearing that same shirt, you know to go to her," Moreno says.

She and Surface declined to say which sororities they belong to, but did defy a ban on talking with reporters to express their objections. They doubt that older women who run national sororities share the values of their younger members.

"I think that a lot of these national organizations are not used to the university tradition of self-governance, but that's something we hold very dear to our hearts here and that will continue to fight for," Surface says.

"The whole idea of, 'What was she wearing? What was she doing? Where was she and who with?' is not a concept that's even talked about in a serious manner," Moreno says. "To have a policy that specifically addresses, 'Who are you with, what are you wearing, and where are you going?' That does come off as a slap in the face."

She plans to observe the ban, but hopes officials will consult local chapters before taking future actions.

Meanwhile, U.Va.'s student council was deluged with complaints and voted unanimously against the restriction.

"They took a chaotic and emotional time in the University of Virginia's history as an opportunity to pass something that they've been trying to do forever," council representative Abraham Axler says.

National sororities have long complained that women have been used to lure new members to fraternities and should not be part of recruiting events, Axler says. He and other council leaders asked national sorority presidents to discuss the matter, he says, but they declined.

University President Teresa Sullivan did weigh in on Friday. She affirmed her belief in students' right to self-governance, but said women looking for fun might consider skipping the fraternity functions in favor of Saturday's basketball game, in which No. 2-ranked U.Va. faces its traditional rival, No. 4 Duke.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Greek system at the University of Virginia drew more scrutiny this week. Fraternities in Charlottesville are welcoming their new members. National sorority leaders warned their members to skip those frat parties this weekend for their safety. Now, this comes after a Rolling Stone story of gang rape at UVA that was later discredited. Sandy Hausman of member station WVTF reports on the controversy over tonight's Boys' Bid Night.

SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: Boys' Bid Night is a celebration of new men accepting membership in a fraternity and women from UVA sororities are always invited to join. But this year they're under strict orders from national presidents to stay clear of frat houses tonight. Based on the response, you might think UVA sorority women were fans of the Beastie Boys.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU GOTTA FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT TO PARTY")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Singing) You gotta fight for your right to party.

HAUSMAN: In fact, students like Sara Surface say this is about much more than a party.

SARA SURFACE: This is not an issue of, we are angry because we can't go out and drink and party, it's an issue over whether or not we have the choice.

HAUSMAN: She admits that Boys' Bid Night sounds like risky business, but Surface has been active in rape prevention programs on campus and says the progressive party where women go from one frat house to the next, often drinking at every stop, is actually quite unsafe.

SURFACE: The ad sounds really dumb, but I think what that doesn't accurately describe is the safety measures that many women and men do take. People are assigned buddies to have them look out for each other. You stay in groups.

HAUSMAN: She has personally helped to educate hundreds of sorority women about how to intervene in situations where friends are at risk, and thinks parties would be safer if sorority members were there. Fellow UVA student Sofia McKewen Moreno adds that even the matching tops women wear on Bid Night help to protect them.

SOFIA MCKEWEN MORENO: They look like we're just trying to show off that we're in sororities, which to some degree I'm sure is true - but when you see a woman in the Tiffany-blue tank top in the back of the room with a guy that she doesn't know, too drunk, and you're wearing that same shirt, you know to go to her.

HAUSMAN: She and Surface declined to say which sororities they belong to, but they defied a ban on talking with reporters to express their objections. They doubt that older women who run national sororities share the values of younger members.

SURFACE: I think that a lot of these national organizations are not used to the university tradition of student self-governance, but that's something that we hold very dear to our hearts here and that we will continue to fight for.

MCKEWEN MORENO: The whole idea of, what was she wearing, what was she doing, where was she and who with is not a concept that's even talked about in a serious manner. And so, to have a policy that specifically addresses who are you with, what are you wearing and where are you going, it does come off as a slap in the face.

HAUSMAN: She plans to observe the ban but hopes officials will consult local chapters before taking future actions. Meanwhile, UVA's student council was deluged with complaints and voted unanimously against the restriction. Representative Abraham Axler says national sororities have long felt women should not be part of recruiting events at fraternities.

ABRAHAM AXLER: I believe what they did was they took a chaotic and emotional time in the University of Virginia's history as an opportunity to pass something that they've been trying to do forever.

HAUSMAN: He and other council leaders asked national sorority presidents to discuss the matter, but they declined. University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan did speak out yesterday. She affirmed her belief in students' right to self-governance, but said women looking for fun might consider skipping the fraternity functions in favor of tonight's basketball game in which number two-ranked UVA faces its traditional rival, number-four, Duke. For NPR News I'm Sandy Hausman in Charlottesville, VA. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.