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Hey, Frat Boys, Don't Touch My Sister

By Kenneth A. Katz

EVER SINCE my little sister Karen started her first year at Indiana University this fall, I've been a pretty petrified big brother. My angst is fueled not by the fact that Karen has decided to spend four formative years in the Midwest, though that's scary in itself. Nor does my anxiety stem from the fact that my sister's roommate happens to be named--no joke--Bambi and comes from an obscure hamlet somewhere in Indiana. Indiana is actually a good school, especially for the performing arts, which is why Karen chose the place. And Bambi, like her namesake the deer, is reportedly very sweet.

But not everyone in Bloomington is a Bambi.

Some Indiana students, in fact, are male. Some are quite large males. Some of these quite large male students at Indiana belong to fraternities. And some of these fraternities, like our beloved final clubs here at Harvard, throw parties where a very large quantity of alcohol is served and a very small amount of respect is shown to female partygoers.

Female partygoers like my little sister Karen. Get the picture?

HAVING TAKEN a cursory glance at some of the 18-year-olds--children, really--who belong to Harvard's Class of '96, I'm damn glad I'm not a first-year again. But even if I were, I'd be damn glad at least that I'm male. For women far more than for men, there's danger of the sexual kind on campus these days.

Even here at Harvard, where many undergrads think they're too sexy for sex, it's far more comforting for me to inhabit a man's body than a woman's. The University's College Life Survey of 1987-88, for example, reported that 32 percent of undergraduate women, compared to 8 percent of men, had been sexually harassed during their years here.

I know one Harvard woman who was date raped here on campus, another who was raped in her hometown, and others who have been sexually harassed. I remember the two sexual assaults that happened in the Quad last spring. I've heard about the alleged rapes in the Pi Eta Club in 1986 and 1988, respectively, that led to the closing of that fine establishment. And I've also listened to many women complain that they are afraid to walk alone at night through the Cambridge Commons and other parts of campus.

And there's a huge amount, of course, that I haven't heard about.

What happens on campuses in the rest of the country? I saw "Animal House." I saw "The Accused." I've seen Ms. magazine's national survey of college women, conducted in 1985, that says one in six had suffered a rape or attempted rape in the previous year.

What's it like for women at big, fraternity-dominated state schools--like Indiana? I decided to ask my sister.

THE FRAT SCENE is the only scene at Indiana, according to Karen. You can go see a movie or hang out with friends, she says, but most people end up hitting frat row before the night is over. Bloomington is no Boston.

Karen says that Indiana first-years, like their counterparts here, tend to hit frat parties in herds. At the frats, like final clubs here, she and her female friends line up at the door and pretend to know one of the brothers in order to be let in. Then they get to try to push through the throng around the keg to get a beer.

Sounds pathetic, but harmless. How about the guys?

The brothers see the first-year women as easy targets, Karen says. The women are in their place. They can do whatever they want, and they think everyone will do what they say.

Doesn't sound too harmless any more. So has she or any of her friends had any bad experiences at the frats?

Well, she said, her first night at Indiana, she and Bambi got a ride home after a frat party from one of the brothers. Oh no, I thought. So what happened? The guy spent the whole ride back--get this--telling Karen and Bambi that they should be careful about accepting rides home from frat guys and walking alone on campus at night.

That's about it so far, Karen said. Plus, numerous student groups at Indiana have held various workshops for men and women about sexual harassment and rape. She hasn't gone yet herself, but she hears they're very good--probably more compelling, I would think, than Dean Jewett's annual Sanders Theatre snoozer on social and academic standards, which takes place tonight and is required for first-years.

MY PATERNALISTIC angst has been somewhat alleviated after talking to Karen. She knows what's up, it seems, though that's not always good enough. and she does have four years left to deal with the perils of being a woman on campus.

I think she'll be okay. Most women on campus aren't sexually harassed or raped.

Unfortunately, some are. And that fact makes it a bit harder for me, as Karen's big brother and the friend of many other college women, to sleep at night. But not nearly as hard, I'm sure, as it makes it for the women themselves.

Kenneth A. Katz '93 is an editorial editor of The Crimson. His column will appear in this space every other Monday.

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