WKU receives national attention from Vanderbilt banners

Callie Miller

WKU is receiving national attention for banners that were hung outside student houses, including at least one fraternity house, before the WKU vs. Vanderbilt University football game Saturday that made references to a 2013 sexual assault case involving Vanderbilt students.

In 2013, four of Vanderbilt’s students were accused of sexual assault. Corey Batey is serving a 15-year sentence, while Brandon Vandenburg is still awaiting his sentencing. The other two, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie, are working on plea deals.

Some of the banners seemed to make reference to Vanderbilt’s history with sexual assault. Some of the banners read as follows:

“Vandy catches more charges than passes #TOPSby90”

“Vandy goes to court. WKU goes to bowl games.”

“Vandy posted Brock Turner’s bail #BeatVandy SEC?”

“Vandy anchors down lifetime sentences T-O-P-S.”

The Lambda Lambda Zeta chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity is the only confirmed fraternity house to have referenced the case on its banner, but other off-campus student houses had banners mocking Vanderbilt in other ways. Banners on WKU fraternities that allegedly mocked the rape case were taken down by Thursday night.

The Tennessean reported that the president of the Lambda Lambda Zeta chapter of Lambda Chi, Alex Hawkins, said they did not mean any harm by the signs. Hawkins said money raised by the fraternity’s philanthropy events is donated to Hope Harbor Sexual Trauma Recovery Center.

Hawkins also told the paper the signs were “not in any way meant to make fun of women or sexual assault allegations associated with the Vanderbilt football team, this was simply an immature joke.”

In the initial story about the banners, the Tennessean referred to Hope Harbor as a shelter for battered women. In response to the Tennessean’s report Executive Director Melissa Whitley tried to correct the role of the organization in an email.

“While domestic and sexual violence have many intersections, our organization does not provide shelter to survivors,” Whitley said.

Whitley also anticipates that Hope Harbor’s relationship with the fraternity “will continue after we have discussions with the WKU chapter.”

Brian Kuster, vice president of student affairs, and other university officials met with all Greek organization presidents last Thursday for, what he called, a discussion about the responsibilities that come from exercising free speech. Kuster also said that each of the 13 chartered fraternities’ national headquarters will be notified of what happened.

“The university does not condone the derogatory messages that were displayed last week,” Kuster said in a statement. “Because the banners were erected on private property, the university does not have the authority to demand their removal. However, all Greek organizations took the banners down when we encouraged them to do so.”

The president of Lambda Chi was contacted for response in this story but declined to comment.

SOKY Riot Grrrls is a local feminist group that partners with other nonprofits in town to further women’s rights and women’s safety in the community.

“Just because we were going into a competitive game does not give them the right to speak like that about women as a whole because it contributes to rape culture in a major way,” Briana Phillips, co-founder of SOKY Riot Grrrls, said.

Phillips said she is worried that allowing actions like the banners to go without correction will send a message that mocking sexual assault is acceptable.

“I think they’re following a trend,” Phillips said. “It’s terrifying that we have a culture on campus that has been created and upheld by some of the most popular organizations at WKU.”

Phillip’s suggestions include hiring a diversity trainer to speak to fraternity members about the nature of their actions. She said that the organization will be demanding repercussions if fraternity members don’t attend the training, such as banning individual members from intramural sports and at most, probation for the rest of the semester.

Phillips is not the only one with intentions to actively start a discussion on campus about sexual assault. Hope Harbor plans to contact Greek Affairs as well.

“We plan to offer additional education programs, and extend an invitation to other campus organizations to request them as well,” Whitley said.

Callie Miller can be reached at (270)-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @callie_miller8.