Extended display of off-campus prop incites negative reaction from offended students
THE SANTA CLARA
January 9, 2014
A Santa Clara fraternity came under fire last quarter after its Halloween decoration drew criticism from students and led to a highly publicized controversy surrounding misogyny and sex trafficking. The uproar spurred the creation of a new organization on campus that promotes women’s issues.
For the past three years, the Sigma Pi fraternity has displayed a black cage at its annual Halloween party. Complete with chains, red and purple lighting, and a stripper pole, the cage featured a new addition last October with the words “BAD B—— ONLY” painted along its side.
Tired of walking by the structure everyday, sophomore Tabitha Petrini contacted one of the fraternity members at the beginning of November and asked him to talk to his fraternity about the cage because she found it offensive. Petrini said she was told that the fraternity would discuss the matter internally.
A week passed and Petrini, along with her friend, junior Sonia Ibrahimkhail, continued to pass the cage while walking to campus. The two students returned to the Sigma Pi house to voice their displeasure and were assured that the cage would be disassembled. But as the days wore on, the structure still stood in the house’s driveway and the only noticeable change was that the derogatory slur had been painted over.
“The reason it just sat there was because we procrastinate at times,” said Sigma Pi President Pete O’Brien. “The thing should usually be in the garage.”
A few days later, Petrini and Ibrahimkhail decided to protest the cage during a fraternity event in the house’s backyard by shouting over the fence in order to be heard loud and clear. The men in the backyard responded by booing and yelling, according to Petrini and Ibrahimkhail.
The two women then reached out to their friend, Symone Jackson, for advice and guidance. Jackson, who was also offended by the cage and has since graduated from Santa Clara, published a Tumblr blog post on Nov. 15 entitled “Misogyny is alive and well at Santa Clara University in 2013.” The post linked the cage to those used in sex trafficking.
Besides being widely circulated among Santa Clara students online, the national blog site, Thought Catalog, picked up Jackson’s piece. Despite the negative media attention, the cage remained at the house.
Having been mistakenly pinned as the author of the viral Tumblr post, Petrini said she began receiving late-night text messages from unknown phone numbers threatening to arrest her for trespassing if she stepped foot on Sigma Pi’s property again.
On Nov. 19, Sigma Pi fraternity members set up a meeting in Lucas Hall to discuss the issue with Petrini, Ibrahimkhail and Jackson. At the meeting, O’Brien said that the fraternity members responsible for the text messages would apologize. Another fraternity member at the meeting called the text messages “totally unacceptable.”
The next day, NBC Bay Area sent a camera crew to Santa Clara to report on the controversy. O’Brien did not think the situation should have appeared on the nightly news.
“Honestly, I’m disappointed because there couldn’t be less of a story,” O’Brien said. “Sex trafficking is a huge issue. Misogyny is a huge issue. They deserve serious discussions, but in no way is the piece of junk in our backyard a part of those problems.”
He added that the cage’s weight and cost discouraged the fraternity from removing it sooner.
Ibrahimkhail was not satisfied with O’Brien’s apology and cited that she felt nobody had actually taken responsibility for the cage.
“I am frustrated,” said Ibrahimkhail. “I think people are misunderstanding the source of the issue and what we really need to talk about. I am happy that a dialogue has started.”
It was not just students who were affected by the cage. Charlotta Kratz, a lecturer in the Communication Department, said she was disturbed by its existence.
“Students are obviously immature, but it’s up to faculty and staff to help them grow and learn,” said Kratz. “I would love to hear male faculty members’ takes on the fraternities. Male faculty are fathers. How would they react if their daughters danced in a cage while frat boys cheered?”
The university responded to the controversy with a statement that described the cage as “counter to everything Santa Clara University stands for.”
It also stated, “Students living on and off campus are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with the goals of our institution.”
Jackson said she has received numerous messages from people who read her blog post, thanking her for exposing the issues that revolved around the incident.
“This isn’t even an isolated event. This is a cultural thing,” said Jackson. “You need to start at a root, and this example arose. We are not doing this out of self-defense or trying to preserve our egos. We are doing this because these are true values that we believe in, strong values that we cherish.”
Contact Kate Coffey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nick Ostiller contributed to this report.