In the morning hours of Nov. 2, between 2:45 a.m. and 4:45 a.m., the words “rapist” and “rape” were spray painted on most of the on-campus fraternity buildings, including the Fraternity and Sorority Community Building. While it is not yet clear who committed the vandalism or why, the College of William and Mary Police Department has opened an investigation.
Later in the morning, facilities maintenance workers began to clean up the spray paint. Some buildings, like the Fraternity and Sorority Community Building, were marked with the word “rapist.” Others, like individual fraternity buildings, were marked with one or two letters of the word.
Interim Interfraternity Council President Jerry Shaen ’19, who is a member of the Delta Chi Fraternity, said that the act was targeting the entire fraternity community since multiple fraternity buildings were vandalized. Shaen sent an email to fraternity members informing them of the vandalism and encouraging members to support each other.
“The Interfraternity Council is actively working with university administration to address this issue,” Shaen said in the email. “This is a critical time for us to practice interfraternalism and turn to each other for support and brotherhood. This action was not targeted at any one organization; it was targeted at our entire fraternal community. Therefore, we should all support each other to find the best way as a community to move forward. I will keep you all apprised of any updates.”
Additionally, Panhellenic Council President Julia Boge ’19, a member of Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority, sent an email to all members of the Panhellenic community, both forwarding Shaen’s message and condemning the vandalism.
“I want to echo the sentiments expressed in [Shaen’s] email,” Boge said in the email. “This is a very upsetting incident that was targeted at our entire community and therefore affects us as well. Condemning this act of expression is in no way meant to diminish those who have experienced sexual assault, but we will not stand for the targeting of an entire community. The Fraternity & Sorority community has been engaged in preventing sexual misconduct on campus for many years. We welcome productive conversations, but vandalizing university property is not a way to engage in conversation.”
Shaen said that in light of the incident, the top priority of IFC is the health, safety and well-being of students on campus.
In recent years, our community has worked hard to address sexual misconduct,” Shaen said in an email.
“In recent years, our community has worked hard to address sexual misconduct,” Shaen said in an email. “We are raising awareness through the Supporting Survivors Initiative, a program where members of Fraternity & Sorority Life are trained by the Haven to give a presentation to their chapter on baseline training, prevention, and support. Within the recent weeks, we have also added a position to our executive board, the Vice President of Health & Wellness. This position places a focus on well-rounded wellness for all our members, whether it be physically, mentally, or sexually. Most recently, on November 5th, the new members of the Fraternity & Sorority Community had a dialogue facilitated by members of HOPE and Someone You Know as a part of the new member orientation. On top of these efforts, we hope to continue to build upon these initiatives and would like to encourage a dialogue on how to better do so. … We acknowledge that sexual misconduct affects our community at disproportionate rates. Yet, progress is being made, and with the commitment of our community and the help of HOPE, Haven, Someone You Know and the Steering Committee on Sexual Misconduct Prevention, we will continue to better ourselves and move towards active prevention and support.
College spokesperson Suzanne Seurattan said the incident was not targeting a specific organization.
“Defacing university buildings or destruction of property is never an acceptable form of expression,” Seurattan said in an email.
Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88 Ph.D. ’06 echoed Seurattan in a campus-wide email, saying that graffiti is not an acceptable form of expression on campus and that the vandalism did not advance the College’s mission to respond to sexual violence.
“Sexual violence and rape are serious issues on college campuses, including ours,” Ambler said in an email. “While we have made progress at William & Mary, our efforts to educate about, prevent, and respond to sexual violence must and do continue in earnest. Defacing property and unfairly labeling an entire segment of our community is neither an effective nor acceptable way to advance that cause.”
For some students, the vandalism of the fraternity houses was a reminder of sexual violence they had experienced. For others, it was a performative gesture. One, Brendan McDonald ’18, who is an executive member of 16(IX)3, said that while the graffiti was cathartic, it was performative because it did not provide a course of action for change. McDonald initially shared this opinion in the Facebook group, “Discourse.”
I commented because I was glad so many people were talking about sexual assault, but it was a performative gesture,” McDonald said.
“I commented because I was glad so many people were talking about sexual assault, but it was a performative gesture,” McDonald said. “I doubt that any of them will pursue the conversation further, and spray painting a frat building is performative. It is not gearing towards any change, it’s just saying there’s an issue without providing a course to resolve the issue by saying ‘hey, there are organizations on campus where we actually work hard to make tangible change to the campus and climate and provide reasonable options for survivors to pursue that give them justice in some sense.’”
According to McDonald, 16(IX)3 and other sexual assault prevention and advocacy groups on campus are working to change university policies and responses to sexual assault. McDonald said that many students were commenting in “Discourse” that they wanted to see policy changes, but that 16(IX)3 works every day to implement policy changes, such as strengthening policies included in the “Dear Colleague” letter that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded, and to establish set definitions for things like consent and sexual assault. Additionally, 16(IX)3 hosted a panel discussion on Title IX policies with university administration earlier this semester.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that they don’t make policy changes until the summer, and even then, they might not be doing the changes from the last academic year, but from previous academic years,” McDonald said.
However, in response to the graffiti on the fraternity houses, McDonald said that 16(IX)3 would not be taking direct action, because it does not see it as its mission to combat Greek life.
“16(IX)3 doesn’t have the resources to fight that, and whatever changes we do could easily be overridden by the national organizations or they could choose to withdraw their chapter here and then they get away scot-free,” McDonald said. “Greek life is Goliath and we are David and we don’t even have a sling. We don’t have the tools or the resources or the audience.”