Town hall meeting touches on sexual assault, rape culture
GVL / Courtesy - Mike Clark, MLive Grand Rapids
Jesse Bernal speaks to the crowd gathered inside of the Grand River Room in Kirkhof during the sexual assault townhall on Tuesday, April 5, 2017.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As part of the event schedule, the Grand Valley State University student senate and the Division of Inclusion and Equity hosted a town hall meeting Tuesday, April 4, to discuss upcoming events and update the community on recent strides made by the university and student organizations.
However, the conversation quickly steered toward the topic of rape culture and fraternity life after a social media storm surrounding former elected student senator Patrick Borum was brought up as the first question during the Q&A portion of the meeting.
Social Media Storm
Borum, a previous member of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, was elected to the 2017-18 student senate after receiving 201 votes from the GVSU student body during the elections held from Monday, March 27, to Saturday, April 1. He has since resigned from his appointment on senate after major backlash following a Facebook status he posted Tuesday, April 4, stating, “Rape culture isn’t real.”
This post came after members of Greek Life were asked to take a survey regarding sexual assault, which Borum said cast a negative light on Greek Life.
Borum said he neither supports nor condones rape or sexual assault and believes his Facebook post was not interpreted correctly.
In a previous interview with the Grand Valley Lanthorn, Borum stated, "I believe that the idea that our American culture accepts, encourages, or tolerates rape/sexual assault on a widespread scale is false. I believe that most people are good and that most people are disgusted by even the thought of rape or sexual assault. There will always be exceptions, but I believe that we do not live in a society where rape is encouraged."
Borum said he chose to step down from his elected position after receiving numerous messages telling him to do so.
“I received many hateful and threatening messages from many members of the senate body which disappointed me severely. I was being told that my beliefs, although well supported, were invalid,” Borum said via email. “I chose to leave the group because it’s clearly not worth saving or helping in any way. The GVSU senate group can enjoy virtue signaling to each other while the real world bases arguments on facts and statistics, not emotions and feelings.”
Many students took to social media to express their concern and disagreement with Borum’s post.
Students posted tweets directed toward Borum linking articles about rape culture, statistics on rape and how many assaults are reported, including how these actions have historically been dealt with in a court of law.
Others took screenshots of his social media posts adding comments of his views being “unacceptable, disgusting and messy.”
Various students voiced these concerns during the town hall meeting as well.
GVSU student Maya Grant brought into question the number of sexual assaults connected with fraternities and if fraternities are utilizing enough resources to educate their members about the topic.
One student also criticized student senate for not releasing a stronger statement and officially denouncing Borum via social media.
The student senate president, Ella Fritzemeier, said she did not feel posting a message bluntly directed at Borum on social media was the appropriate avenue to deal with the situation because Borum had already resigned and was no longer affiliated with student senate.
Fritzemeier added that she wanted to keep the topic of the town hall meeting on its original purpose.
“I think the focus of today should be how as a community are we going to come together and continue furthering this discussion (about awareness and education),” Fritzemeier said.
The conversation subsequently shifted back to Borum’s posts after one student expressed concern about him not willing to apologize for his statement.
When asked by the Lanthorn if he feels he is well educated on the topic of sexual assault, Borum stated, “I believe I am well educated in general and am certainly able to form my own opinions just like anyone else. The difference between myself and many of my peers is that I’m not trading facts for feelings.
"No one is questioning whether rape occurs, or whether rape is wrong, or whether rape is illegal. I’m calling to question the claim that Americans are okay with rape. This is the short-form definition of rape culture: excusing or normalizing rape. I believe our school and our country alike do not encourage rape, excuse rape (or) apologize for rapists.”
Borum said he was aware of the town hall meeting but could not attend due to having prior engagements he was required to tend to.
Kappa Sigma Fraternity
Around 30 members of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity were in attendance at Tuesday’s town hall meeting.
“While we did have great numbers here, probably in accordance with what happened, we had already had a number of people that were signed up to come here (before Borum’s Facebook post),” said Dane Gardner, a member of Kappa Sigma Fraternity. “Once Patrick said that, we were really adamant on showing that (what he said) was not representative of us as a whole.”
A GVSU student did call into question a tweet posted by the GVSU Kappa Sigma account that stated, “It is very ignorant to say ‘Rape culture does not exist.' However, denying the existence is FAR from giving support for the phenomena.”
The student was specifically concerned with the second sentence of the tweet.
“Whoever tweeted that I’m assuming was part of our PR Chair, and once we found out that is what was said, we all as a total did not agree.” Gardner said. “Once we saw that, we said, ‘That’s not acceptable; we don’t feel that way.’ They shouldn’t have made an executive decision to say something like that on their own.”
That tweet has since been deleted.
“We’re constantly trying to rid of the conception that it is statistically more probable for fraternity men to be involved in sexual assaults," Gardner said. "In this organization, we don’t want that to be what we’re about. We want to take it up firsthand to show that fraternities are more about philanthropy, brotherhood and fundraising.
"We want to see Greek Life not only remain on our campus but in this country, and we want to get rid of that conception that it’s strictly a bad thing, strictly about drinking, strictly about sexual assaults. We had already planned some events regarding (the topic of) sexual assault but especially from here on out we are taking full action.”
GVSU Kappa Sigma has since released the following statement via Twitter:
“We do not accept or identify with what @(Borum's Twitter handle) tweeted. RAPE CULTURE IS REAL, whether he understands that or not. We are embarrassed.”
Joshua Perez, president of Kappa Sigma, also released the following statement:
“The members of Kappa Sigma apologize for the gross, pitiful and downright disrespectful social media post by Patrick Borum. This is being looked into by our executive board and will be handled swiftly. We as Kappa Sigmas pride ourselves on treating others with the respect and compassion they rightfully deserve.”
In response to the comments made by the fraternity, Borum stated via email, “The brotherhood in this chapter should be seriously questioned. I think it is ridiculous that a group of men, men I called brothers, would be willing to slander and chastise me, if it meant saving face with individuals who are outraged, misinformed men and women alike.” He added that the fraternity should separate an individual’s personal and political beliefs from those representative of any group.
Borum has since resigned from the Kappa Sigma Fraternity and no longer holds any affiliation with the organization.
Town Hall Meeting Results
Aside from the discussion about Borum and the Kappa Sigma Fraternity, one student brought up the lack of call boxes on campus.
Fritzemeier and GVSU Police Chief Renee Freeman responded by saying the implementation of call boxes has been heavily discussed at GVSU but findings from research conducted on the topic have found that cell phones are more useful in cases of emergency.
Another student rebutted, stating there are students on campus who cannot afford cell phones or that many find their phones die late at night.
Andy Beachnau, vice provost for student services and director of housing and health services, took to the podium to talk about the recent lighting and sidewalk put in along 48th Avenue and the relationship the university has with off campus apartments.
“We have something really unique here in the fact that we regularly communicate with one another in what I call a neighborhood watch with the township, the sheriff’s department, GVPD, myself and other administrators,” Beachnau said. “We spend a lot of time thinking about not only the on-campus environment but the off-campus environment.”
Beachnau added that lighting projects will be continued to extend lighting and sidewalks from 42nd Avenue to 48th Avenue as well as along Pierce Street. Lighting will also be extended to 52nd Avenue.
Jesse Bernal, vice president for inclusion and equity, took time to thank the student leaders, administrators and staff who have worked to end sexual assaults on college campuses and gender based acts of violence.
Ashley Schulte, victim advocate for the GVSU Women’s Center, talked about recent strides made by organizations on campus through programing, education and bystander intervention training. She also discussed a leadership summit staff will be attending to learn what other universities are doing to combat sexual assault and previewed some of the events planned for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. A full list of events can be found at www.gvsu.edu/itsonus.