This post was updated October 4 at 11:20 a.m.
The UCLA Panhellenic Association president voiced her disapproval of a recent student government resolution condemning sexual assault that occurs in the Greek community. She said she thinks the resolution added little value to campus discourse and unfairly targets only the fraternities on campus.
Emily Lewis, the UCLA Panhellenic president, sent an email without consulting all Panhellenic members on Sept. 21 from the president’s official email account to 12 members of the Undergraduate Students Association Council.
The email was sent in response to the council’s statement condemning sexual violence at UCLA fraternities, which was released Sept. 7. The council’s statement followed reports that former Zeta Beta Tau fraternity member Blake Lobato is facing criminal charges of assault at the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Lewis said in the email she thought the council’s resolution added nothing of value to the campus discourse about sexual violence, and that she thinks exclusively focusing on the problem of sexual violence at in-house fraternity events invalidates other survivors’ experiences.
“When the conversation regarding sexual violence focuses only on occurrences in these spaces, it effectively invalidates the experiences of members of the undergraduate student body who have been affected by sexual violence within other campus communities or in other physical locations on or near our campus,” Lewis said in her email to USAC.
Lewis said in an interview she wrote the email in her official capacity as president and thinks the email reflects other sorority members’ beliefs based on past conversations.
“I would say that this message was written on behalf of being president of the association, but I feel as though it’s representative of past and previous conversations,” Lewis said.
Kappa Alpha Theta president Sawyer Lindsey said in an emailed statement she supported Lewis in every aspect. The Daily Bruin reached out to every other Panhellenic sorority president as well, but each could not be reached or declined to comment.
USAC campus events commissioner Alley Madison said she was surprised by Lewis’ email because the council’s statement was directed at the Interfraternity Council and not the Panhellenic Association.
“Her response seemed to deflect proposed changes which would make that community a safer one,” Madison said. “The email read to me as coming from a place of concern for the public image of Greek life, rather than concern for student safety on our campus.”
Lewis added that she thinks USAC only addresses sexual assault when an assault occurs in a fraternity.
Lewis also said she thinks the council’s call for Title IX training was redundant because the University of California Office of the President already requires members of Greek life to participate in annual Title IX training.
“So I think in terms of that expanding conversation, we need education on what’s already required and reviewing current policies, and then trying to figure out areas for improvement,” Lewis said.
USAC general representative 2 Bella Martin, who is a member of a Gamma Phi Beta, said she thinks it was misinformed of Lewis to conclude that USAC views sexual assault as exclusive to Greek life.
“In each office we are constantly bringing up the issue of sexual assault and what resources to bring for all survivors,” Martin said. “I don’t think we take the topic lightly and I also don’t think through our actions and words we constrain it to just fraternities.”
USAC president Claire Fieldman, who is a member of Alpha Delta Pi, said she hoped she has demonstrated her awareness that sexual assault is not exclusive to Greek life in her public statements, USAC platforms, and personal interactions, but added its prevalence in Greek life cannot be ignored.
Fieldman added she believes Lewis wrote her email with good intentions, but mischaracterizes the council’s resolution. Fieldman said the council’s statement was tailored to the specific lawsuit against Lobato, ZBT, SAE and the IFC.
Lewis added in her interview that sorority chapter presidents have made changes to promote safety within Greek life, but said she was uncomfortable sharing what those changes were.
“The way the (Panhellenic) council is organized, there’s no mechanism to hold chapter presidents accountable,” Lewis said. “But they all stuck to those decisions as a group to stand in solidarity with (the) community of survivors.”
Madison said she thinks an issue as important as sexual assault must be addressed through direct action.
“We have pinpointed one with the fraternity community, and Lewis’ hesitance to combat that is, frankly, concerning,” Madison said. “As a representative who speaks on behalf of thousands of women within the Panhellenic community, Lewis’ remarks are doubly concerning.”
Contributing reports from Sydney Coneeny, Daily Bruin city and crime editor.