'Sexist' or 'Fun'? Colleges Under Fire for Outrageous Banners

A fraternity at Old Dominion University has been suspended in the wake of some of its members posting sexually suggestive “welcome” signs at its off-campus house.

The three signs, which hung from the balcony of a home reportedly occupied by members of the Sigma Nu fraternity, said “Rowdy and fun. Hope your baby girl is read for a good time,” “Freshman daughter drop off” and “Go ahead and drop off mom too…” They were on display during the opening days of school, as new students and their parents arrived on campus.

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Though the signs, which were first hung last week, have been taken down, they have sparked outrage online and received a strong negative response from both school officials and the student body.

In a statement provided to Yahoo Parenting, Giovanna M. Genard, an Old Dominion University spokeswoman, said: “At Old Dominion University, we promote a culture of respect and dignity. Immediately after University staff was made aware of the banners, we worked with students in this private residence to take them down. The actions of these few students are not representative of the core values of Old Dominion University. Students and organizations found to have violated the University’s Code of Conduct and Discrimination Policy will be subject to discipline.”

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In a letter sent to the Old Dominion Community on Saturday, university president John Broderick wrote, “I am outraged about the offensive message directed toward women that was visible for a time on 43rd Street. Our students, campus community and alumni have been offended. 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.”

The president of the Old Dominion Student Government Association, Chris Ndiritu, also issued a statement, calling the signs “unwelcoming, offensive, and unacceptable.”

The Sigma Nu chapter at Old Dominion was suspended by the national fraternity on Monday. On the organization’s Facebook page, Sigma Nu officials explained, “This reprehensible display is not what we’re about and we won’t stand for it.”

These signs were hanging from an off-campus house at Ohio State University on Saturday. (Photo: Eleven Warriors/Facebook)

A similar incident occurred at Ohio State on Saturday, with signs saying “Dads, we’ll take it from here” and “Daughter day care 2.0” hanging outside a home rented by seven male seniors. Officials from Ohio State didn’t respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment, but students who lived in the house told WCMH that the signs were all in good fun. “Our motives were not to insult or look down on anyone, not to be sexist,” Justin Miller, an OSU senior, said. “Our motive is just to have fun, it is college.”

Another student living in the house, Alex Sheets, told WCMH, “People have been saying we are misogynists, we are sexist, we are degrading towards women. My dad, he is a good Christian man, I am a good Christian man, but we just do this for fun. We are not trying to cause any havoc or stir up any trouble, we are just trying to have some fun.”

Neither Sheets nor Miller responded to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.

Kate Harding, author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do About It, says she doesn’t doubt that most of the people behind these signs were just making a joke. “I’m sure most of them are guys goofing off, and have an immature sense of humor,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “But there might be one or two who are rapists, who are going to go after the girls that are vulnerable, and after making a sign like this they think that other guys in the group have their backs.”

The signs send the message that women are property, Harding says. “Especially the part about their dads handing them off,” she says. “It’s the idea that women are objects or possessions that go from one man to another. This idea of ‘drop the kids off here’ — they’re being so open about what makes young women vulnerable, while still being condescending and gross.”

Allison Tombros Korman, executive director of Culture of Respect, a nonprofit organization that aims to support schools, students, and parents in the effort to eliminate rape and sexual assault from campuses, says the signs are simply offensive. “They send a message of inequality of power and show a fundamental lack of respect for those women coming to campus,” Tombros Korman tells Yahoo Parenting. “They are new to campus, new to drinking, which is a tool perpetrators can use, and they don’t know peers that well yet. This is very scary message to receive upon your arrival — this predatory message of ‘we’re here and we’re waiting for you.’”

Julie Zeilinger, founding editor of The FBomb, author of College 101: A Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year, and a 2015 college graduate says the signs are no surprise. “While signs like these weren’t evident on my campus (at least to my knowledge) I anecdotally know from plenty of friends at colleges across the country that fraternities frequently hang these types of banners during welcome wee,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “And, if not in the form of banners, they often said equally if not more offensive things to freshmen women’s faces.”

Harding says the timing of the signs speaks to a bigger issue on campuses across the country. “Some administrators refer to when freshman arrive on campus as ‘the red zone,’” she says. “More than half of campus rapes happen between August and November and freshman girls are most at risk, at least in terms of reported cases,” she says. “So with these signs, these boys are really making explicit the threat that actually exists, which is that young women away from home for the first time, maybe not street smart yet, are very much at risk in the first months on campus.”

While the signs are certainly an indication that there’s still work to be done in terms of prevention education, Tombros Korman says the swift reaction from the administration and student body, at least in the Old Dominion case, is a positive sign.

“This message of ‘we don’t want to be known for this,’ that is an incredibly powerful message to hear from your peers and administrators. Peers expressing outrage is what changes norms,” she says. “It’s a nice takeaway from this not-so-pleasant story, that the message was sent loud and clear that ‘we’re not on board with this behavior.’”

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