At Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, someone at an off-campus fraternity house hung crass, homemade banners from the balcony for incoming freshmen to see while being dropped off by their parents. One banner said, “Rowdy and Fun, Hope Your Baby Girl Is Ready for a Good Time.” Another said “Freshman Daughter Drop Off” and featured an arrow pointing to the front door of the house. A third sign said, “Go Ahead and Drop Off Mom Too.”
The banners were crude and distasteful. Even at 18, I wouldn’t have hung them. If I were a professor there, I’d have told the kids that they have a First Amendment right to display the signs even as I tried to shame them into taking them down. If my kid put up those banners––not that I’d ever pay for a kid to live in a frat house––I’d tell him to take them down or never ask for my help with tuition again.
Even so, it staggers me that this is an international news story covered by scores of outlets. How did we reach a place where Local Frat Makes Crude Joke causes staffers at the BBC, CNN, The Washington Post and USA Today to spring into action?
The answer begins with one interpretation of the banners. For some observers, they aren’t just vulgar, rude, suggestive, bawdy, ribald, derogatory, or uncouth––they’re an example of “rape culture.” As Old Dominion’s President John Broderick put it, “While we constantly educate students, faculty and staff about sexual assault and sexual harassment, this incident confirms our collective efforts are still failing to register with some.” Nearly every press outlet that has covered the controversy connected it to ongoing efforts to reduce the number of rapes that occur on campus.