AMHERST — After Crystal Curran was raped by a member of a fraternity at the University of Massachusetts Amherst last year, she said, she brought allegations to chapter leaders. In response, they harassed her and made her life “a living hell.”
So when she saw a post on social media to protest an alleged sexual assault at the Theta Chi house Saturday night, the UMass senior said she felt a responsibility to show up and demand change.
On Sunday, following the anonymous allegations, which included that a female student was drugged and assaulted at a party, a 300-person protest shattered windows and flipped a car outside the fraternity house.
The anger and frustration shifted Monday to the office of the dean of students. There, Curran joined students in a sit-in protest demanding the university take action regarding the allegations of sexual assault. The protest was part of campuswide calls for administrative accountability amid what many students are referring to as a culture of rape, harassment, and secrecy within the university’s party scene.
More than 80 students staged the sit-in, calling for the adoption of a Survivors Bill of Rights, which would suspend chapters involved in sexual allegations, open criminal investigations, and expel all parties found guilty of sexual misconduct.
In a statement Monday, Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy called the recent events “deeply troubling” but reminded students that violence “is not the answer.”
“At this point, no survivor or witness has come forward to file a complaint or a report substantiating the claims that have been made on various social media platforms,” Subbaswamy said. “While we respect and support a survivor’s decision whether or not to report an assault or pursue sanctions, we cannot take action against alleged perpetrators, whether they be individuals or organizations, without actionable evidence.”
Many students said this is not an isolated incident and the scope of the problem goes beyond Theta Chi.
Curran, who studies music education and psychology, believes the weekend’s protest could spark a wider movement “because sexual assault is rampant” on campus and it “impacts significantly more people than anyone wants to acknowledge.”
Curran said her assailant was not a member of Theta Chi. For a long time after she was raped, she stayed silent — like 90 percent of college rape victims, according to National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Ultimately, she said, the harassment deterred her from bringing a formal complaint to the college’s administration or local police, she said.
“It just made me feel broken. I was empty. I felt so guilty,” Curran said in a phone interview. She said she also felt alone.
But she’s not.
According to Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, one in six American women and one in 33 American men are victims of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. And, 21 percent of transgender and nonbinary young adults are victims of rape or sexual assault, the network said.
The protests at UMass come months after reckonings of sexual violence at campuses around the country. In February, students at Boston University plastered the campus with fliers and chalk messages condemning the school’s handling of sexual assault and harassment allegations. And, at Northeastern University, students created an Instagram page that posted anonymous stories of survivors in an effort to reform the school’s Title IX procedure to include Greek-life-specific policies.
Emma Earnest, a 20-year-old junior and psychology major at UMass Amherst, said the protests are adding momentum to students’ longstanding grievances with fraternity culture.
“Once this came out everyone started posting their own stories about being sexually assaulted at frats,” Earnest said. “It’s just piling up, and everyone’s so angry.”
On Monday afternoon, no one answered the door at the Theta Chi house, a brick dwelling on North Pleasant Street. The chapter’s door was stained with egg yolk and scrawled with the word “rapists.” Nearby, workers covered the house with plywood, and the chapter’s resident advisor taped plastic over a car’s smashed windows.
“This isn’t shocking,” said a female student who declined to give her name Monday. “What was shocking was the attitudes of the frat brothers . . . and the police during the protest. They thought it was a joke. . . . It was heartbreaking to see.”
Snapchat videos reveal that as a crowd gathered to demand justice outside their door, members of Theta Chi were inside partying. One of the videos, which many students are sharing is captioned “allegations,” and shows several brothers dancing in the basement, allegedly during the protests.
The fraternity’s national chapter said Monday that it is unaware of any formal complaints of misconduct.
“Theta Chi Fraternity is shocked by the riot which occurred yesterday targeting the Theta Chapter members and house at the University of Massachusetts,” the national chapter said in a statement. “These allegations have caused an uproar of violence on campus and Theta Chi asks local law enforcement to continue to provide safety for all students.”
Theta Chi’s UMass chapter was also the center of another controversy in February when it was suspended for hosting large parties that violated coronavirus restrictions.
The UMass Amherst student government association condemned “perpetrators of assault” and “the culture of silence and tolerance that protects them.”
“It is the responsibility and the moral obligation of the administration and staff of this university to provide us with an environment in which we can safely live and learn,” said the statement from the student association.
The Panhellenic Council, which governs the school’s eight sororities released a statement in support of survivors.
“Sexual assault and rape are widespread issues that still plague many people in our UMass Amherst Community,” said the statement posted to Instagram. “We are actively working towards systemic change in Panhellenic life to better support women and survivors.”
Sunday’s demonstration — organized via the online forum Reddit — became “destructive” according to a statement from the UMass police, who called the Hadley police and State Police for backup. Students tore flags, threw objects, and attempted to enter the house, a police statement said.
Video of the protest captured by the Daily Collegian, the campus newspaper, showed police urging demonstrators to leave the area.
“Start walking,” one officer shouts in the video. “Don’t lose your education over this. There’s a process, . . . and this isn’t it.”
The Amherst Police department did not respond to the Globe request for comment Monday.
Several students on campus said Monday that conversations about sexual violence tend to focus on what victims can do to protect themselves, rather than how the community can prevent an assault from occurring: Guard your drink. Don’t walk home alone. Don’t wear anything too revealing.
Curran, the UMass senior, hopes the conversation prompts changes to address the root of the problem.
“Instead of making women everywhere wear bulletproof vests, why don’t we take the bullets out of the gun?” Curran said.
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