Last week, The Student released a story containing leaked minutes and other evidence of the discussions held by the Edinburgh ‘chapter’ of the infamous US-based fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon. The evidence shows that the DKE had discussed holding ‘raping trips’, and raping the Edinburgh University Feminist Society, joked about sexually taking advantage of intoxicated women, and planned initiations involving the forced consumption of a caffeinated alcoholic drink which has led to a number of high-profile deaths. The story took parts of the student body by storm online and on campus, EUSA and the university have been making condemnatory statements, and the momentum is such that the story has now been reported in publications such as the Huffington Post, the Independent and Time, as well as being featured on BBC radio. EUSA and the university are working on disciplinary action and there have been widespread calls to remove DKE from campus. Especially in light of recent incidents of rape in the Meadows, many are now more afraid for their safety around Edinburgh, so it’s positive that the story is thankfully being taken incredibly seriously.
Shocking though The Student’s findings were, it’s perhaps less shocking that the DKE, a group reputed for its sexist and harmful activities in the past, is an environment which can allow these things to go unchallenged, except for the room to be vaguely ‘split’ when such remarks are made, as one ex-member of the Edinburgh ‘chapter’ has anonymously stated. It’s also disheartening, angering even, that views like these are still perpetuated within an organisation whose members often later go on to be high-profile figures in the higher echelons of society, as has happened in the USA, essentially leading to these kinds of jokes being structurally acceptable in the long term.
Some might argue that what was said by members of the DKE were just jokes, that they were never going to act on these statements, and that these were private discussions never intended for the wider world to see. So why complain? Why deem any of these comments reprehensible? Why fear for your safety, when they’re just jokes? Why take these things seriously when they were never meant to be taken seriously? Why condemn people for their humour? If some of these comments were recorded in a meeting’s official minutes as actions and plans the fraternity were going to take forward, that is a great concern, because it means those were more than jokes – they were sanctioned by the organisation. While you can never be certain that they were ever really going to act on them or not, the problem still remains that these potential actions were even considered as acceptable. The way they also targeted specific individuals and groups in the minutes with these jokes is to be taken incredibly seriously as a potential threat, so it is of course understandable to be afraid for your own safety if you might have been even indirectly targeted. This is why the complaints have been so large and so loud.
But the DKE members just made jokes, you might say. No. A joke about rape is a joke if it challenges the notion of rape, if it satirises those structures which allow rape to go on with minimum or no punishment, and if the humour behind it is used to highlight the problems behind rape. A joke about rape is not a joke if it supports rape – it is a threat. It is a propagation of rape culture. It is never okay.