Too little, too late: Disband organizations that fail to take accountability for sexual violence

Content Warning: Discussions of sexual violence

Sigma Phi Epsilon. Texas Rho. And now, the Tejas Club.

Discussions about accountability and transparency aren’t new to this campus. We’ve reckoned with a persistent culture of sexual misconduct at UT for years, whether it be from professors, Greek life, spirit groups or other entities. This semester, the Tejas Club has become the latest organization under fire for allegations of misconduct. 

The Tejas Club has been rightfully subject to protests and criticism, and they’re not the only organization on campus that needs to be held accountable. The rape culture that is allowed to fester in fraternities on campus cannot be ignored, even as the current conversation turns to the Tejas Club. 

These discussions surrounding repeated sexual violence are exhausting and potentially triggering for survivors and activists in the UT community. Spirit groups and fraternities have been allowed to create unsafe environments on campus for far too long — and it shouldn’t be the UT community’s job to continuously demand change. 

For the safety of students and the sake of survivors, the Tejas Club and any Interfraternity Council (IFC) member organizations that have failed to take accountability for sexual misconduct allegations must disband immediately. 

One incident of sexual misconduct, harassment or assault is one too many. If you do not immediately address concerns regarding student safety in your organization, you have no place on this campus. 

Accountability means accepting responsibility. It means working with activists and advocates to establish a harm prevention framework. It means being transparent with the student community and using available Title IX resources. Most importantly, it means protecting survivors over the members and reputation of your organization. Anything less than taking immediate action to condemn abusers is unacceptable and allows sexual violence to perpetuate.

Cellular and molecular biology senior Kaya Epstein and government and sociology sophomore Amanda Garcia have organized two community protests at the Tejas House. Garcia acknowledged that their demands are not necessarily the end goal, but the first step toward creating a safer campus. 

“As a survivor…I’ve seen that no one, especially abusers and their apologists, will listen until you share that part of yourself that you don’t want to relive,” Garcia said. “I am all for dissolving these organizations, and it’s not just Tejas…this conversation about Tejas is opening the door to so many other conversations and recognizing that it’s an institutional thing, and Tejas is one of many that upholds this structure.”

We should have seen the Tejas Club immediately address allegations — something they still have not done publicly. We should have seen IFC working tirelessly to implement harm prevention. Instead, all we see are similar instances of misconduct occurring regularly in Greek life, and the situation at Tejas also demonstrates a clear lack of accountability. 

Epstein, Interpersonal Violence Prevention Coalition co-chair and student activist, described their unsatisfactory experience working with IFC. They explained that IFC demonstrates a systemically abysmal response to sexual misconduct, one with bare minimum requirements for education and reporting. According to Epstein, IFC could not do a worse possible job at responding. 

Epstein went on to mention that advocates, including themself, have been more than willing to work with IFC to create a system of accountability, but they were suddenly shut out of the conversation after months of work. 

“It was months of effort, months of energy expended by survivors and student organizers to try and give fraternities the opportunity to mend some of the harm they’ve caused to the UT community and prevent them from continuing to be a menace,” Epstein said. “(IFC) has no desire to change. Because the problems that we’ve asked them to address are in the fundamental structure of their organizations.” 

We reached out to IFC multiple times through email and asked them to interview regarding organizational responses to sexual misconduct allegations and received no response. This is entirely unacceptable and points to a larger issue of foundational accountability –- how are these organizations supposed to support survivors if they are unwilling to acknowledge the conversation? Their silence implies a lack of any meaningful changes and indicates a failure to take sexual misconduct allegations seriously.

Fourth year nursing major and Not On My Campus (NOMC) president-elect Vanessa Sayroo described her experiences working with both IFC and Tejas as uncooperative and difficult. Sayroo explained that IFC’s constitution details that each chapter must have two active members who serve as peer educators with NOMC, and said that despite this, many fraternities have failed to follow through. 

“With IFC specifically…it’s always been a struggle to get them to uphold what they say they’re going to do,” Sayroo said. “Yes they have this (active members) requirement… but when we hold our training at the beginning of the semester that they all know about, they all know the date of, they don’t show up.” 

Sayroo went on to explain that because these trainings are not taken seriously by IFC and its constituent entities, NOMC often finds itself having to continually accommodate for their requests for date changes— requests that accompany “conflicts” like football games and social events. Sayroo said that she feels that IFC often unfairly looks to NOMC to fix all of their systemic sexual misconduct issues instead of taking accountability for themselves. 

“My job is not to make sure you aren’t sexually assaulting women — that’s your job,” Sayroo said. “Just in general, IFC is not very willing to work with people, and I feel like part of it is that we hold them accountable.” 

Fundamental structural issues have long been a subject of conversation with regards to fraternities, but it’s clear that the Tejas Club has similar frameworks in place: frameworks that uphold the reputation of the organization over accountability for actions. When an organization refuses to accept responsibility in a timely manner and advocate for survivors and transparency, they are creating a network of complicity. 

At this point, the only ethical solution is for these organizations to disband. 

“We did reach out to Tejas,” Sayroo said “They sent out a statement to the roundtable for social organization leaders, not publicly, just on roundtable. In their statement, they said that they were working with (NOMC), having all their members be trained by us. And I was like, we have not heard from you. Tejas never contacted us about it, they never asked us anything. And for them to say all of their members are being trained is just false. We had maybe five of their members be trained this semester…they weren’t telling the truth.” 

Sayroo said that though she was eventually able to give the NOMC presentation to Tejas Club members, her overall interactions with the Tejas Club and its officers were unproductive. 

“I don’t think that their intentions are to help survivors,” Sayroo said “I genuinely think their intentions are just ‘how do we save our organization?’ and ‘how do we save our reputation?’… There’s a problem within their organization that’s systematic. I don’t think they can continue to exist as an organization, because they’ve already kind of proved that they can’t.” 

When we reached out to the Tejas Club for an interview, we were met with requests to do the interview over email so the organization could formulate responses in advance. We refused, as we believe in transparent journalism that results from on the record conversations. The Tejas Club then told us that they were willing to interview — but only if we attributed quotes to the Tejas Club “on background”. They cited fear of harassment of their members if any were quoted by name and on the record. 

We did not grant their request. It’s absolutely unacceptable that no officer, not even the president, was willing to be held accountable by name during an interview with us. It’s ridiculous that the Tejas Club only seems to be concerned with the criticism of its officers while showing no public interest in supporting or advocating for the safety of survivors. 

The Tejas Club declined to interview and instead chose to email us a lengthy official statement from their organization. Though we will reference the statement, we will not be publishing it in full, as The Daily Texan is not a mouthpiece for organizations with allegations to release statements to the community for the first time. 

If the Tejas Club truly thinks it is important to  “open a transparent dialogue of previous events, and the state of our Club moving forward,” as written in their statement to us, where was this acknowledgement months ago? Why do they refuse to have open conversations with us? It’s too little, too late from an organization that seemed set on dodging accountability from the start. 

“I think unfortunately, the opportunity for (the Tejas Club) to take accountability has passed,” Epstein said. “They were given the opportunity to work with student organizers and survivors to repair the harm caused by their members and to systemically prevent future misconduct…considering the continual problems that we’re seeing from organizations like Tejas and IFC affiliated organizations, there really is no option but to ask them to disband.”

The Tejas Club said that accused individuals are no longer members of their organization, and they are committed to fostering the safest environment possible through bystander intervention training and an officer position dedicated to equity and safety. They also said that they “realize this is not enough” and will “work toward lasting, systemic changes.” 

They’re right about one thing — it’s not enough, and now it’s too late. After a pattern of a lack of accountability, the only way for Tejas Club and IFC to create systemic change is to vote to disband their respective organizations or entities. If they won’t move to disband themselves, it’s time for the University to step in and dissolve them. It’s not radical, and it’s not unreasonable. Abolishing organizations with entrenched systems of sexual violence is the only way to truly protect the students on this campus. 

The editorial board is composed of associate editors Isabelle Costello, Sruti Ramachandran, Megan Tran, Julia Zaksek and editor-in-chief Sanika Nayak.