Ashley-Anna Aboreden’s eyes widen as she skims through a series of phone messages. As her thumb trails down the screen, her mouth gapes. “That’s just not OK,” the 18-year-old freshman says.
Standing alone in an empty green plaza, Aboreden pulls down her chunky headphones and sighs: "It's scary and sad that this is happening on my campus. We're supposed to come here for education, but it's sad to hear some people aren't here learning or progressing."
Over the past few weeks, undergraduate students across Florida International University’s several campuses have been clamoring over the revelation that members of the fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon have been exchanging sexually explicit group messages and nude photos of female students. Some students say they’re appalled the university hasn’t disciplined TKE's frat members, while others believe the content of the messages doesn’t merit punishment. The private chat among the fraternity's members was leaked to school administrators and Greek officials September 28 by someone demanding they take action. As the school investigates the messages, the screenshots have been circulated across social media, where they've been seen by members of FIU's student body, many of whom are disgusted.
"It's pretty awful, and it makes me feel distrustful," says senior Karla Estrada, a 23-year-old from Miami, "not that I'm shocked or surprised." She says college campuses, particularly fraternities, often have a culture of sexual harassment. Since the recent social media campaign #metoo began, many students have shared their stories of being sexually harassed or assaulted.
TKE doesn't have a Greek house on FIU's campus, unlike the fraternities Phi Gamma Delta and Pi Kappa Phi, whose houses are located on SW 108th Avenue. Students explained that despite TKE's heavy social presence, frat members aren't easily confronted.
Even so, 19-year-old Dante Ottati, a freshman from Weston, says he doesn't think sexually explicit messages are worth addressing. "They're probably just joking," Ottati says of the frat's thread. "Unless someone actually assaults another person, I don't think it's really that bad." Ottati says he regularly sees drunk students get "touchy" at social events such as the university's tailgates. "There's not much conflict when it happens, so I never get involved."
But Taj Castaneda, a 22-year-old sophomore, takes a different approach. "We all have to be our brother's keeper," he says. "There's freedom of speech and not everyone's perfect, but this kind of forceful behavior is inappropriate."
FIU requires students to complete a 75-minute online sexual assault workshop. If they don't, a registration hold is placed on their student accounts, preventing enrollment for future terms. The university also posts banners saying "It's On Us" throughout campus and provides multiple resources to students who have experienced harassment, domestic violence, or stalking.
Nonetheless, many female students on FIU's campuses say they've taken their own measures to ensure their safety. Estrada says she's always cautious while walking in the university's parking garages, while Aboreden says she enrolls only in classes that are scheduled in the morning so that she doesn't have to walk around on campus at night. "It sucks that we have to take these extra precautions," she says.
Since the leak, students say it's the university's responsibility to address the fraternity's inappropriate messages, though many are unsure what the punishment should be. "Maybe there needs to be more education or counseling to the people who initiated these messages, but nothing as far as a suspension or [expulsion]," senior Catherine Vazquez says. "I don't think someone should be severely punished unless they write something that turns into an action."
But Keenan Thompson says he wouldn't want to be in the same school as someone joking about rape. "There needs to be a better way of examining fraternity policies so that there's no tolerance for things like this," the 22-year-old junior from Fort Lauderdale says.
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"I don't think students are aware of all the ways abuse and harassment are defined," Thompson says. "'Sexual assault' is more obvious, but even looking at someone in a certain way or being invasive can still be considered harassment."
"Morally, it shouldn't be a question," Aboreden says. "I expect that the university protect its students, if not for its reputation, and that these students be held accountable."
For now, FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana says that “FIU is aware of the images described in the story and has no tolerance for this type of behavior." However, she states that the university is unable to comment further pending the investigation.
Correction: A previous version of the story incorrectly stated that Pi Kappa Phi is a sorority. It is a fraternity.