Claiming gender discrimination, thousands of women are railing against an order placed on sorority sisters at the University of Virginia which requires them to stay home during fraternity parties this weekend over "safety" concerns.
"Our concerns lie in the way sorority women are being used as leverage to change the actions and behaviors of fraternity men. This resolution has misconstrued us as a passive aggregate rather than active agents for change. It has also had the unintended consequence of subjugating women," a petition addressed to the National Panhellenic Conference International and National Presidents states.
Ahead of "Boys' Bid Night," in which fraternities throw parties for their newest members, national sororities individually sent emails to all chapter presidents mandating that they not participate in the event. Students are protesting; two petitions have been widely circulated expressing that the order weakens women's equality at a time when it is most critical on the UVA campus.
"The mandate suggests, inadvertently perhaps, that women should not and cannot exist in certain spaces."'
The order comes in the wake of new regulations implemented at the university following sexual assault allegations that rocked the campus at the end of last year and led to a reevaluation of Greek life. Now, in addition to several rules for serving beer and liquor, parties must include at least three sober brothers assigned to monitor safety. This month, bans on sorority and fraternity activities were lifted -- and Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity named in a disputed Rolling Stone article as the site of an alleged gang rape, was reinstated after consultations with police officials.
But as bid-week parties get underway, some sororities are instructing the sisters to stay at their houses this weekend as a precaution to avoid breaking the new rules, The Washington Post first reported. (Two fraternities last week refused to sign the new rules, saying it could be a liability for their members.)
A Jan. 20 letter obtained by NBC News written by Tammie Pinkston, international president of Alpha Delta Pi sorority, begins by applauding the institution of the new rules, then states, "we'd like to begin the change with Men's Bid Night."
"We think it is up to the men's group to recruit their members and celebrate those new members on their Bid Night, just as all NPC Sororities do. We encourage you to plan alternative sisterhood events with expectations of full chapter participation," Pinkston directs.
But many say the message being sent to women by forbidding activities only provokes already-existing stereotypes, and could could prove counter-effective (if not dangerous) with regard to the university's new regulations.
"[Sororities] are, by their very nature, organizations meant to foster strength among their members. They are organizations that inherently promote gender equality. This mandate is diametrically opposed to the values on which our organizations were founded and is contrary to the principals we continue to uphold," the widely circulated petition states, which encourages both members and nonmembers of Greek life to voice concerns. "This solution is not long-term, realistic, or sustainable. The mandate suggests, inadvertently perhaps, that women should not and cannot exist in certain spaces."
UVA President Teresa Sullivan on Thursday said the university played no part in discussions between sororities and their national representatives about their participation in an annual night of fraternity parties. "We have confidence in our students' ability to use good judgment, be mindful of one another's safety, and adhere to the new safety practices developed by them," she said in a statement.
Another petition on change.org that's garnered more than 2,000 supporters firmly states "this is gender discrimination," adding that "allowing the NPC to prevent us from celebrating (what used to be) a tight-knit community, sends the message that we are weak."
"Allowing the NPC to prevent us from celebrating (what used to be) a tight-knit community, sends the message that we are weak."'
The petition addressed to the National Panhellenic Conference acknowledges that safety measures are necessary, but that "this is not the solution."
"Women are not the problem," one woman commented on the petition. "Canceling boys bid night sends the message that the only way for women to be safe on campus is by avoiding all social situations," another reads.
The National Panhellenic Conference, an umbrella organization that did not coordinate the e-mails but is aware of the action, issued a statement to distance themselves from the order.
"NPC is not the one creating and enforcing this mandate. The decision is coming from each sorority's inter/national president, who are all unanimously standing together in their request. NPC cannot and does not enforce any mandate on any of the sororities present at UVA, even though they're NPC member groups, but NPC does support the safety of their sorority women and the inter/national presidents making the decision by encouraging women to plan sisterhood events and other alternative options to joint fraternity parties this weekend," the statement reads.
The University was not involved in this decision, and we consider this a matter between the national organizations and their local chapters here in Charlottesville.
Sullivan last month promised to tackle campus sexual assault following the allegations. "Everyone agrees that there is a piece of our culture that is broken, and only a united effort will provide us the best answers for how to fix that," she said.
This new order just might not be that answer.