This week the archival research led me to a full-page article dedicated to Sigma Chi’s Derby Days. This article from the 1973 Emory Wheel used a sarcastic tone to describe the event. The Wheel dons pictures of promiscuously dressed young women accompanied by the words “The Sexist World of Derby Day … What Would or Wouldn’t You Do for This Trophy”. Other captions include “Derby Day is a rite of passage from puberty into infantile sexuality” and comparisons to “that airline commercial where a sexy stewardess says, ‘I’m Debbie, fly me’”.
A Sigma Chi tradition started in 1922, Derby Days is supposed to be a weeklong philanthropy event. The Wheel also notes its attempts to be involved in raising spirit. Current day Emory Sigma Chi Derby Days include events such as a powderpuff flag football tournament, trips to the Children’s Hospital, and the sale of baked goods and tickets to social events in which the profits are donated to charity. The event most reminiscent of the Wheel article is the Sorority Talent Show. It was banned by Emory IFC a couple of years ago but it used to consist of choreographed dances by each sorority and one by the brothers of Sigma Chi. The winning sorority gets some form of a prize.
As a brother of Sigma Chi I feel I can comment on the nature of this event. There are no forced decisions to participate or to act in a certain way. Sorority members choose their own dance and perform it by their own will. Any behavior suggested from the Wheel may occur, but it does not go remarkably beyond anything that is witnessed at any other fraternity’s average party. Anyone who has an issue with something like this should then have issues with the framework of American Greek life in general. All criticisms of Greek life are valid; it creates a strict social scene prone to many types of liabilities in young, boisterous college students. Reading the American College Health Association’s Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence shed some light onto the environment that gives rise to sexual violence. There are similarities to Greek life, namely the abundance and abuse of drugs and alcohol as well as large social pressures.
My beliefs about Greek life at Emory, and they may certainly be misguided, are that the type of school Emory is changes susceptibility to these things. Within such a small social circle within a relatively small school like Emory, most of the people you hang out with already know one another. Because most everyone knows each other, I think this causes the frequency of sketchy sexual situations to go down. Also, Emory has smarter kids than your average state school and so people better understand the risks associated with activities in Greek life. Again, I could be naïve in my thinking, but in my fraternity and my friend group, I have never heard of any sexual assaults of any kind even under the definition provided by the ACHA.
Something such as the 1973 Derby Days would have never been allowed with the current day college administration. Across the country, schools are trying to more strictly control Greek life, as there have been many liability cases. I understand the reasoning behind the change but I do not think it is going to affect that much. College kids will continue to drink, do drugs, and act with more sexual freedom regardless of the presence of fraternities. It is something that makes college unique and I cannot realistically see it going away. Working with these organizations to educate both men and women about the risks associated with such actions would be a much more productive way to ensure that stuff like this happens less.
Kien Bean: I appreciate your insider analysis of greek life, Derby Days, and sexual assault/rape on campus. These are insights that most of the class and myself would never have otherwise. Your blog post would have been stronger and more complete if you included the images from The Wheel in this post so the reader could come to their own conclusions about the structure of Derby Days (did you include in an earlier post, if so, you could have referred the reader to that post). Lastly, I would have liked to hear more specifics about Derby Days. You mostly focus on how no women are forced to do the dances they do and it is nothing you wouldn’t find in another fraternity event. I am left guessing about the point of the Derby Days and the dances or performances you are talking about.