ugg boots retailers those who fear them at the University of Minnesota
Rae Sremmurd blasted from a speaker, and University Avenue looked to be caught in a hailstorm of Solo cups. At Delta Tau Delta, brothers grilled and milled while girls with gleaming hair played cornhole. It was the first football game day of the season, and almost everyone wore unisex “gopheralls” striped maroon and gold overalls that look like they’re from a school spirited prison.
I’d heard Delta Tau described as a libertarian frat. To show support for the Second Amendment, it sometimes flies a flag with a gun on it. On election night in November, the brothers reportedly played Kool and the Gang’s “Celebrate” in the wee hours.
They’re also next door to the East River Co op, a house where young people live together in organized liberal chaos. It’s like a frat, in a way, but co ed, and without a national headquarters looming in the background.
You can tell it’s different on sight. Frats have manicured lawns, shiny grills, porch chairs branded with Greek letters. The co op’s yard is a tangle of foliage. A beige couch, not unlike a potato, sits on the porch. On that first game day, it was accompanied by a menagerie of eight wooden signs, wrapped in barbed wire or chained to porch pillars. “FRAT BOYS STOP RAPING PEOPLE,” read one. Another, about the size of a sandwich board: “STOP PROTECTING PERPS + SILENCING SURVIVORS.” Still another flag sized sign proclaimed in pink caps, “THIS STREET IS A DANGER TO HUMANITY. FRAT BOYS ARE 3X MORE LIKELY TO SEXUALLY ASSAULT THAN OTHER COLLEGE MEN!”
A co op resident made the signs back in February, shortly after the Minnesota Daily ran a story on a series of sexual assaults at a frat. She hoped to “put the frats on blast” for enabling sexual violence. Even months old and rain damaged, her signs made the stucco co op look like it was ceaselessly screaming. As institutions, frats are at their most vulnerable and self conscious during this time. No one will join without first seeing them as cool and fun and non sinister. Would recruits ask awkward questions about the signs? Would frat guys get mad?
A random moon faced guy at Delta Tau, shirtless under his gopheralls, declined to speculate. He wasn’t supposed to comment on the signs, he told me pleasantly. (He was not the first or last to tell me this.) Behind him, a clear hose snaked down from an upper story window a three story beer bong, he explained. We laughed. Frat row is fun, I thought. I also thought, Someone’s going to drown in that.
Just by not being a frat, the co op has always been at odds with its neighbors. Last summer, before the signs went up, someone cut down a chest high stand of sunflowers in the co op’s yard, and frat guys have long tried to steal the bike mounted above the door. (It’s like the sword in the stone, a co opper observed.) The hijinks flow both ways, if not in equal measure. The co op has room for 29 residents, and there are 1,700 plus frat guys. Still, a co opper once stole a porch chair from a frat, and they would steal Delta Tau’s gun flag if they weren’t afraid of getting shot.
When the co op’s signs went up in February, though, things changed. Vandalism skyrocketed. The house was egged, and many signs were smashed or stolen. Strangers had always drunkenly peed in the co op’s yard, but they were growing more intentional, harder to shoo away. One resident stopped sitting on the porch alone, worried about harassment from drunk passersby, “always white males.” She didn’t know if they were in frats, but she had heard them yell “slurs” and “phrases suggesting [co op residents] needed to be sexually assaulted.”
It was the frats, though, that complained to the school.
In his Facebook photos, Simon Beck looks like Tom Brady. He’s the president of the Interfraternity Council (IFC), the body that governs all but one of the frats with houses or the “white frats,” as some rightly call them. (The U’s fraternities are 85 percent white, and many students of color are in multicultural frats without houses.) Beck submitted an official complaint to the U about the co op’s signs. In an email, he explained that the signs featured “anti fraternity rhetoric,
” as if this were an acknowledged type of hate speech.
The school investigated Beck’s complaint, but found the co op wasn’t breaking any rules. The signs stayed up. Frat guys weren’t happy.
“They hated it,” said George Abdallah, a lanky ex Alpha Tau Omega brother. “They’re just upset that an organization is attacking their culture, their identity, their family.”
The signs did prompt spirited discussion. “There were a few that agreed with the signs, that it was a big problem that needed to be addressed,” said Caleb Walters, a double major in microbiology and genetics who was last year’s Phi Sigma Kappa president. “Others straight up were angry and just, ‘Screw this, screw that, this is bullshit.'”
Walters wasn’t angry. Neither was Abdallah. In fact, Abdallah went to a spring march against sexual violence on frat row. It pissed off some brothers so much they told him to “fucking quit” the frat, but he ignored them. He cares about consent. He says he always asks before he kisses a girl and he kissed a lot of girls when he was in ATO.
Still, Abdallah breathed an “exhausted sigh” when he saw the co op’s signs. As a “millennial Arab Californian,” Abdallah, who’s Lebanese, has always been liberal. He joined ATO, in part, because the frat’s president was a Bernie Sanders supporter. “Co op people are my people,” he said. “I just hate the way they’re going about it.” He thinks the signs alienate potential allies, and could, over time, strip Greek life of its more reform minded members, leaving behind only “the shit.”
Walters’ frat shares a parking lot with the co op, and he could easily pose as a member. He had shoulder length hair when I met him in August, and he was once a competitive gymnast. Walters had been to a storytelling event at the co op, and he knew that residents “didn’t like overgeneralizations. [or] harmful stereotypes.” But weren’t the signs exactly that?
A co opper he spoke to worried about that too, he said, but told him it was more important to “bring light to the issue.” When we met, Walters had largely shrugged off his discomfort. He’d just invited the co op and the other nearby frats to co host a block party. The co op replied to him before any frats did. To his surprise, they said yes.
First, in January, an image of degrading handwritten notes on The Bachelor contestants surfaced on Twitter. They were reportedly the work of Delta Chi brothers, honing their Bachelor brackets. Many viewers treat Bachelor Nation shows like March Madness, betting either money or chunks of dignity on their outcomes. The notes termed one female contestant a “slut,” another a “chink” with “nice tits.” They went viral.
Then, in February, the Minnesota Daily published an expos on Delta Upsilon brothers accused of sexual assault.
S. was “constantly feeling unsafe” on frat row. During her sophomore year, she says, she was raped by a partner. She knew plenty of people who’d had similar experiences with frat guys. She’d also heard about Abby Honold’s case.
In 2014, Honold a 19 year old undergrad at the U was raped twice by a Sigma Phi Epsilon brother. They met at a party in the courtyard at FloCo apartments, an upscale complex near campus where leases include free tanning. The brother, Daniel Drill Mellum, lived across the street, and invited Honold to go to his place and help him pick up some liquor. When they were alone in his apartment, he attacked her.
He reportedly laughed while he raped her, and shoved his fingers down her throat so violently he tore tissue inside her mouth. He was convicted of two counts of rape in Hennepin County court and sentenced to six years in prison.
S. was haunted by Honold’s case and others. So she made the signs with scrap wood and pink paint, which struck her as “cute and sassy and kind of ironic.”
Another co opper felt that S., in an argument over consent, hadn’t gotten their consent for the signs. L. who asked to be anonymous because her job “would not be pleased with my name being out there” remembers S. telling fellow residents that anyone who criticized the signs was perpetuating rape culture and didn’t deserve to live in the co op, even if they agreed with the signs’ underlying message.
The first day of rush week, a sunny Saturday, I saw a heated argument. It was outside Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a frat with two gold lion statues flanking its walkway,
a few doors down from the co op.