When I first entered the University at Buffalo as an undergraduate student in 1989, I felt included. For me, as a woman, it is important to me to feel and be a part of any group or institution that truly “includes” women, both appreciating and respecting women. The atmosphere that is present at UB today, in 2014, however, has changed. UB has become a sexist institution that promotes a perspective and images that make men the priority. Women’s concerns and interests have taken a backseat to those of men, sometimes being entirely excluded. What happened?
The University at Buffalo (UB) is one of the four university centers within the State University of New York (SUNY) system. Being born and raised in Western New York State, I was aware of UB as an institution that was prestigious, with a reputation for educational excellence. As a high school senior, I was accepted at all of the eight or ten colleges and universities to which I applied. UB was actually my second choice behind Ithaca College, though I chose to attend UB because of the lesser cost, closer proximity to home, and excellent reputation as a research institution. I had been interested in pursuing a medically-related career at that time, and I am an individual who gets much enjoyment from completing research, so UB seemed the perfect place for me to go after high school.
After arriving at UB, I quickly gained the feeling that it was a place in which I could soar, and I was correct. In my first year there, I became a member of several student organizations in which I was interested; studied a science-related curriculum to prepare for a medical career; worked part-time in my dormitory complex; was active in the university wind ensemble and chorus; and was a member of both the indoor and outdoor women’s track and field teams. I was not, nor have ever been a “partier;” and I never put on the “freshman 15.” In fact, I became more busy and active at UB, getting into better shape, and structuring my life and managing my time so that I would be as successful as possible. While doing this, I also met new people, made new friends, tried out different avenues of interests and enjoyment, and stayed as focused on my studies as possible.
As a member of the women’s track and field team at UB, I was one of the Royals. The men were the Bulls, and the women were the Royals. My specialty areas were in field events, including shot put, discus, and javelin. In my last two years of high school, I was recognized as one of the top competitors in shot put and discus throughout Western New York State. While I also competed in nearly every other event throughout the six years that I was a member of my varsity high school team, those two were my top events. As a Royal, I was a proud member of the women’s team at UB. Today, women’s sports teams are only known as Bulls, a masculine term that excludes, overlooks, and denies the “femaleness” of women. As such and in the manner that it is used at UB, the term ‘Bulls’ has become a sexist word that excludes women, and in turn, prioritizes only the gender, concerns, and interests of men.
Throughout most of my time spent at UB as an undergraduate, I was also a member of the university’s pep band. The Pep Band was a group that played songs during men’s home football and basketball games to liven up the crowd. The Pep Band also played at one away football game per semester. In my schooling prior to attending UB, I had been a member of the band and marching band for eight years. Included as a requirement for being a band member in high school was participating in both the marching band and pep band. Therefore, while UB did not have a marching band at that time, I was quite familiar with what was expected and required of musicians, whether they were extremely serious or playing just for fun. The Pep Band provided an outlet for students to play their instruments socially and recreationally.
At UB today, there is the Thunder of the East Marching Band. The main logo that promotes the image of the group reflects a man playing a trumpet. Inequality and sexism are represented in the image because of this. There is no woman who is reflected in the logo. Women are completely excluded from being portrayed in the logo, though the marching band is not a group that is exclusively male. This reflects another situation in which men’s gender, interests, and concerns take priority over women, excluding women.
At UB, I never had a boyfriend. As a heterosexual woman, that was a part of my life that was lacking. At more than half way through my senior year, I was still a virgin, and was quite proud of it. I had prided myself in trying remain chaste for the “right” person. Certainly, I dated and always had many male friends, with many who were very good friends – respectful, caring, protective, and gentlemanly, more like good brothers. But, there was never one who could adjust to my busy and focused lifestyle; perhaps there was never a man who wanted to work as hard as it would be required to maintain an intimate relationship with me. My focus was on my studies and activities, ending up with completing two degrees in the less than 3.5 years, less than the amount of time that it takes most students to complete one degree. And, perhaps I was not willing to “make” the time necessary for which an intimate relationship would have required to be successful. Through all of this, it was still okay at UB for me to make my own decision in regard to the types and levels of intensity of my relationships with others.
In the latter part of 1992, in my last semester at UB as an undergraduate, a peer raped me. The rape occurred on a blind date with him that had been arranged by two mutual friends, one of whom was a fraternity member. This man was a fellow UB student, two years younger than me, from Downstate New York who was also a member of the same fraternity as our mutual friend. The morning following the violent and hurtful rape that I experienced, I informed my two friends about it, and one friend encouraged me to confront the rapist about it by phone, another hurtful experience for me. While four people knew of the rape, it was not reported until I reported it to UB campus police a few years later, having caused all those involved to protect the rapist so that he cleanly got away with his crime, as well as creating accomplices out of our mutual “friends.”
In later reporting the crime to public safety at UB, one of the police chiefs laughed about it, dismissing it and minimizing it. The case went through the legal system, but the perpetrator was never charged, nor prosecuted. He got away with a violent rape in which I was harmed and injured in many ways. No one at UB provided me with any support in coping with what had occurred. No one told me that women at college and university campuses may have a chance of being raped. No one told me that men who are members of many college and university fraternities believe rape is sex. No one told me that the assistant district attorney in Buffalo would deny that I was raped, telling me that I had not been raped. No one told me that my life would be forever altered by being trusting of a man who was twisted in his thoughts and actions, violently raping and harming me, and getting away with it. No one asks to be raped. And, when it happens, I have experienced that it is the victim or survivor who is blamed, revictimized, and punished by many in society who do not hold the offender responsible or accountable for his actions.
Colleges and universities in which there is a rape culture present within their fraternities are not only sexist and harmful, but criminal. When all those who are supposed to protect women from harm, and support them in their reporting and recovery, but do not do so, and instead, support the actions of the rapist, they embolden and enable such men to continue their criminal actions, believing they can get away with it, because they have gotten away with it. It has been my experience that this hidden rape culture within certain fraternities at UB has continued and has been perpetuated. The annual tradition of fraternity men creating snow sculptures of ejaculating penises is only one reflection that this hidden rape culture within UB’s fraternities still exists, and is very much alive and well.
Lastly, when I completed my studies at UB in 1992, and returned to attend the graduation ceremony in 1993, it was a Division III institution. There had been a lot of talk and news about the possibility of UB going to Division I. Many students did not think it would happen; in fact, many hoped that it would not happen, including myself. This is because there was a belief among students that football would detract from UB’s reputation as a renowned research university in the Northeastern United States. My experience, as well as that of many students and faculty, was to observe that to occur.
In 1994 and 1995, I returned to UB and took several classes as an open student. I completed undergraduate courses, a graduate course, and a post-graduate class. It was during that time that I realized that the atmosphere and mood at UB had changed. Football became the “all important” aspect of UB. An example of that occurred in my sociology class. In my class were three football players who had extremely disrespectful attitudes and toilet mouths. They were disrespectful to the instructor, resistant and angry about having to attend class (and often, did not do so), and sat in the back of the class, swearing and causing disruption. Unfortunately, because they were football players, they were “untouchable.” They got away with all of these behaviors, and appeared to have the support of the heads of the athletics department in their unruliness. They acted abominably and they got away with it. Professors were afraid to speak out and express themselves about the manner in which education was deteriorating at UB, having been replaced with football, so lauded and supported by the institution’s president.
Women who enter UB, as well as other colleges and universities, must be informed and educated about these types of issues that are present in institutions of higher education so that we can better empower, bond with, and protect ourselves. Our society so often teaches girls and women that we must sacrifice ourselves, our identities, our safety, our intelligence, our feelings, our bodies to men. In order to survive and even prosper, women have often learned that it is a man’s world, and that we must be submissive and/or subservient to men. There are men and women who perpetuate this societal standard when they promote issues such as sexism and inequality toward women, as well as issues including sexual assault and rape. Denying and turning a blind eye to resolving these issues only promotes a culture that becomes even more sexist, unequal, harmful, and violent toward women and girls.
Prestigious universities such as UB have an opportunity to get back on the right track. College and university leaders must remain open-minded when faced with issues such as sexism, inequality, and sexual assault on campus, including rapes experienced by both women and men. They must not attempt to hide, cover up, ridicule, deny, or minimize these situations. Doing so only worsens and perpetuates them. College and university leaders must promote environments on campus that are fair and equal, respectful and appreciative, caring and sensitive.
I went to UB to gain an excellent education. While I, indeed, obtained a great education from an outstanding institution, I also graduated from UB, unnecessarily, as a rape victim and survivor. 😦 No one did anything to prevent or stop it from happening then, and to my knowledge, the culture there has not changed for the better for women, thus still perpetuating its continuance now. UB did not make it better for me, but it can still make things better for others.
Author’s Note: This post – along with dozens of others regarding campus sexual assault – is listed on the National Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence website as of January 1, 2015 at: http://www.ncdsv.org/publications_sa-campus.html .