Editor’s Note: This article contains graphic depictions of sexual assault. Read at your own discretion.
After a short-lived Twitter account accused former and current UH students — most being members of historically Black fraternities — of abuse against women, the University’s Eta Mu chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha canceled a planned party in favor of hosting “It Starts With Us,” a seminar on sexual awareness, Friday.
The tweets, which levied accusations against five members of each different historically Black fraternity chartered at UH and one against a former UH student, sparked passionate responses from the Black community.
“The Twitter account, not directly causing it, but showed that this is probably the perfect time — that maybe we need to do something now, while the conversation is alive and well,” said Jeramaine Netherly, the adviser to Alpha Phi Alpha, of which he was president during his time as a UH student.
Netherly said he hopes the event can begin a dialogue within the community.
“It kind of shed a lot of light to members in our chapter,” said Vice President and Director of Education of the chapter Christopher Porter, a mechanical engineering technology junior.
The chapter had been planning to host a similar event later in the semester, but the Twitter accusations added a level of urgency, Porter said. Netherly agreed that the incident provided a good opportunity to host the conversation.
In preparation for the event, the fraternity reached out to the Wellness Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, Equal Opportunity Services and the Women and Gender Resource Center to help aid the discussion.
As students and alumni entered the room, Alpha Phi Alpha members handed out raffle tickets and “It Starts With Us” bracelets that featured the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline Number inside.
The event opened with a welcome from the chapter’s president, Marlon Black, which was followed by formal statements from representatives of the other fraternities. Each chapter emphasized its stance against sexual violence in their community.
The official Twitter for the Eta Mu chapter posted a Google Form asking UH students to share their experiences and questions about sexual misconduct before the event. The chapter received more than 150 responses.
Black read the statistics gathered through the form about on-campus misconduct, in addition to a number of survivor-submitted accounts of sexual assault, following the event’s opening remarks.
Forty percent of respondents to the form said they had been sexually assaulted. Of those individuals, 31.1 percent said they didn’t report it.
“I was blackout drunk in bed with a friend of mine,” reads one anonymous submission. “When I opened my eyes, she was riding me without a condom. This was the first time I never used a condom in sex. I felt like I shouldn’t think anything of it because I’m a guy.”
Richard Igbinoba, a former president and current member of Alpha Phi Alpha, read the final submission aloud, detailing an anonymous woman’s four encounters with sexual assault.
“To this day, I’ve never said this number out loud. I never quite understood the shame that accompanies rape,” the submission reads. “I was a (psychology) major, for god’s sake. I knew, textbook-wise, why shame and fear and all those emotions flood the mind and body of a victim.”
“But for some reason, I couldn’t understand how anyone could feel responsible and ashamed of someone else’s actions toward them. How could you blame yourself for something someone did to you?”
Following the reading, representatives from the partnering UH departments helped guide the audience in a discussion using prepared questions and those submitted through the form.
When the floor opened to questions from the audience after presentations from each of the resource centers, some audience members, pleading with the male students in the room, asked what it was going to take for the community to believe women when they come forward with their stories.
“We do believe you, but we’re just students and we don’t know what you want,” said marketing and management senior Ashton Connely, a member of Phi Beta Sigma, one of the fraternities mentioned in the tweets.
Connely later clarified that he hopes these conversations will empower victims to continue to speak up about their experiences, and hopes that people will be quicker to hold each other accountable for their actions.
Assistant Director for Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Anneliese Bustillo echoed this call to action while mediating the audience discussion.
“When we let little things happen, we let big things happen,” she said.