Students and community members gathered Tuesday afternoon in front of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, holding signs that read “Organize and Fight Back Against Sexist Violence.” The group chanted, “One, we are the people, two, say it louder, people’s justice for all sexual assault survivors.”
Pittsburgh Alliance for Revolutionary Youth held a protest titled “Organize and Fight Back Against Sexist Violence,” where under 10 people protested in solidarity with University of Nebraska-Lincoln students fighting against the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, whose chapter’s members have a history of sexual assault allegations.
Students at University of Nebraska-Lincoln started protesting the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity — also known as “Fiji” — in late August after a 19-year-old male student and member of the fraternity allegedly raped a 17-year-old female student at an off-campus dwelling. University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police are currently investigating the incident and have identified a suspect.
Bella Kabelly, an undecided Pitt sophomore, said the group gathered to make the University community aware of the UNL fraternity’s actions and hold them accountable. Kabelly said she also wanted to stand in solidarity with all victims of sexual assault and violence — both on and off Pitt’s campus.
“[Sexual assault] continues to happen on all campuses, basically, with institutions not holding their students accountable and allowing these to sort of take place and go unaccounted for,” Kabelly said. “So yeah, that’s kind of why we’re here. We’re spreading awareness, letting any victims know that we stand in solidarity with them.”
The fraternity member’s actions prompted a petition to “Ban Fiji Forever,” which has garnered nearly 500,000 signatures since Rose Felice, a sophomore at UNL, created it in August. The petition claims that “13 girls have been raped so far” and that “these people and this institution should face consequences.”
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced on Aug. 25 that it is closing the fraternity’s house and suspending its operations during the investigation.
UNL previously suspended the fraternity from 2017 until 2020 for behavior outside of the school’s Student Code of Conduct, including “reckless alcohol use, hazing and inappropriate sexually based behavior, including a pattern of sexually harassing conduct.”
One speaker at the event, who asked to remain anonymous, said this type of behavior often goes unnoticed or ignored at universities, especially in the case of University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They said when asking, “Is this what we do to women?” the answer is often, “Yes.”
“At fraternities, the answer is often ‘yes.’ At universities, the answer is often ‘yes.’ In this University, the answer is often ‘yes,’” the speaker said. “32% of Pitt students who are women say that they have faced sexual assault on this campus. What is the University doing about it? What is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln doing about it? What is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln police doing about it? Nothing.”
According to the 2019 AAU Climate Survey, 31.7% of undergraduate women at Pitt reported some type of nonconsensual sexual contact.
The speaker also said UNL officials aren’t doing enough to hold the perpetrator accountable, instead putting the responsibility on students.
“The only people who have taken action are the people of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus,” the speaker said. “Hence, the people and the students of Pitt’s campus are here today to fight and show solidarity with the 17-year-old girl.”
The speaker added that while other people may be staying silent on this issue, this group will continue to hold fraternities and universities accountable for their actions and “fight” alongside survivors.
“We refuse to forget,” the speaker said. “We refuse to walk past this. We refuse to let this child be a victim, when she is not. She is a survivor. She is a fighter. We will fight with her.”
Another Pitt student at the protest said the group wanted to raise awareness about the “horrible event” that took place at UNL. He said not only do universities need to be held accountable for what their students do, but also different chapters of Fiji need to speak up about this issue.
“But the common denominator here is Fiji, that particular fraternity, which as far as I know, hasn’t taken any real accountability against this crime that was committed, only lip service and doing the bare minimum,” the student said.
Pitt’s chapter of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity released a statement on Aug. 28 addressing the incident at UNL. The statement said members of Pitt’s Fiji chapter denounce the actions of UNL’s chapter and “calls upon everyone to understand consent, hold each other accountable and be active bystanders.”
“These actions do not represent the values or standards that our members of Phi Gamma Delta uphold,” the statement said. “Here, at the University of Pittsburgh, we strive to facilitate a safe and inclusive environment for everybody, and do not tolerate sexual violence or abuse of any kind.”
The statement also said their brotherhood does not extend to “those who take part in or condone any acts of sexual violence” and that they will “aid in bringing justice to situations involving sexual violence.”
The Pitt student said there’s not enough being done to combat this issue of sexual assault and violence and not enough people are talking about this issue — so they are.
“So we’re taking this opportunity to raise our voices and criticize them where nobody else will criticize them,” the student said. “You know, everyone else on campus is staying silent about it and it’s just hard to get anything done.”
If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault or violence, you can reach out to the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX through email at [email protected], phone at 412-648-7860 or by submitting an anonymous online report. You can also contact the University Counseling Center for 24/7 support by calling 412-648-7930.