Before We All Talk About What Happened at The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee

Before any of their family lawyers decide it’s time for one of them to make a public apology in an expensive suit. Before I have to read an article from a major news publication mourning the loss of their “bright futures.” Before an ignorant “I don’t need feminism because” post is created with a smiling girl holding a piece of paper gushing with victim blame. Before the phrase “put herself in that position” has to ring in my ears again. Stop. Stop.

Every once in awhile, the ubiquitous violence women face on a daily basis shows up in that little corner of my facebook page. “Trending”, or so it’s called. Parents hear about it on the news. It’s in the Yahoo front page slideshow between what child stars look like now and what pharmaceutical company is getting sued. It leaks out of the whispers of dorm hallways with the complaints that never come to surface, and we hear about it. Like what’s happening now at University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

The words “fraternity” and “rape” used together don’t shock people anymore, right? Okay, just checking. I’d like to point out that from the perspective of someone who has been in one of these frat houses as a mildly objective yet skeptical observer, this shit is bonkers.

Let me interject for a moment. I live on the West side of Chicago. My parents shudder at times when they hear what block or what street I’m on, but they can never seem to believe what is absolutely true in my experience: that for me the most dangerous part, in one of the most violent cities in the Western world, is Lincoln Park, where the private Jesuit DePaul University campus sits. It is surrounded by upscale “bro bars,” where you can’t count the number of colored pastel shorts-and-boat shoes combos on one hand and where the bud lights are slung like the compliments on your “cool nerdy glasses”.

About once a year, I decide to give one of these parties another go. Miraculously, the word “fraternity” is never spoken until I get there. Then I’m trapped.

“God, they’re not all that bad. Why are you so judgemental?”

Because, my friends, my discomfort with this particular social convention is so thick and so viscous that it’s hard for me to put it into words the feeling I get when a white boy in a polo looks me up and down. Then, upon noticing I caught him looking me over, raises an eyebrow as if to show me of his approval. Things like this — the mildest, smallest micro-aggression — stabs me in the side with memories of what I’ve seen and felt. Things have a way in these shitty houses of going from goofy to uncomfortable to absolutely terribly horrible in a series of minutes.

However, we know the story. We’ve seen this all before. If this specific incident has some special pizazz that somehow makes it important informational outlets: 1) It will become a huge deal for three days 2) It will spark controversy with a lot of covert misogynists/ignorant outside parties claiming the fault of the victim and 3) All wash away in a week, or maybe three, if you’re on tumblr.

So before the real news reports come out, before recognizable faces appear on screens and speak with straight faces about what happened in Milwaukee, we need to have a talk here. Now.

Our system has failed to protect us. Universities consistently under-report sexual violence; reports disappear to avoid bad publicity, and cops, do I even have to talk about cops? There are some things we can do about rape culture in the breeding ground of frat houses. I’ve seen them work before.

Ladies: Stop calling that girl an annoying drunk bitch, even if she’s a little shrieky and clumsy. It’s dehumanizing her just enough to make it clear that, even to you, she is not an entire person like she was at lecture yesterday or straightening her hair earlier today. Ask her if she’s okay. If she needs a ride. If she needs a place to stay tonight. Call out that shitty creepy guy. Don’t think about how you should have reacted to him putting his arm around her waist — when you’re pretty sure they don’t even know each other — in the cab ride home. Don’t apologize for having something to say. Chances are, at least in my experience, the “frattier” the guy is, the more shocked he’ll be when you talk to him without smiling. When you challenge his actions as a big strong man from below his eye level, he will be off-put and most likely taken aback. Be clear and take no bullshit.

Dudes: Please, please, please remember how important your voice is. Unfortunately, shitty, scary, and misogynist rape-y dudes don’t listen to women. Your most insignificant, passive word as a cool and trusting bro means infinitely more to one of these guys than anything a woman can say that doesn’t involve his dick. Offer to accompany your friends of the lady type where they need to go. You don’t have to mention why. My previous roommate used to see me putting on my shoes to go to the pharmacy or pick up some bread in nighttime hours. He would just casually be say, “I’ll go with you, yeah?” The fact that he would offer this and we didn’t explicitly have to talk about what we were both afraid of meant the world to me. Use your weird power for good, gents.

Humans: Reject the major concept of the “stranger danger”. According to RAINN, somewhere around ⅔ of rapes are committed by someone the victim personally knows. Argue the racist attitudes perpetuated in what we are taught about rape and be critical of what’s happening around you. Keep the conversation going. Don’t let what has been so long regarded as normal stay that way any longer. Demand justice from figures of authority loudly and clearly. Eradicate rape culture one frat party at a time. Before we have to talk about this again, please.


Author: Kayla Hartman



Burn, Brian. “University of Wisconsin Fraternity Accused of Categorizing Date Rape Victims.” The New York Times, 19 Sept. 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.

“Racism and Rape.” End Sexual Violence. National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.

“The Offenders.” RAINN. | RAINN | Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.


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