Earlier this week, Patrick Borum, a 20-year-old student at Grand Valley State University, questioned one of higher education’s most dearly held dogmas: the existence of a “rape culture,” where society “normalizes and trivializes” sexual violence.
“Rape culture isn’t real,” Borum posted on his personal Facebook account Tuesday. Cue the outrage.
Since then, other students have accused Borum of being a supporter of rape and even a possible rapist; his peers have slammed him with messages on social media calling him “a piece of shit,” “a piece of dirt,” and worse; he’s been a central subject in a campus town hall meeting on sexual assault; and his fraternity and the student senate have publicly denounced his comments as ignorant and offensive, prompting his resignation from both.
“My comments went absolutely viral on campus, and everyone was pissed off about it,” Borum told Heat Street. “I’m being ostracized in my own community. … I 100 percent feel like I’m being bullied.”
The controversy began earlier this week, when members of campus fraternities were told to take a mandatory survey, administered by a third party, about Greek Life and sexual assault, Borum said. He and other students noticed with dismay that almost all of the questions seemed to imply that alcoholism, misogyny, harassment and assault were commonplace in fraternities.
“The questions were all leading,” Borum said. “There was no correct answers you could post, so it seemed like you were a danger to women.”
For instance, fraternity members were asked to indicate their level of agreement with statements like, “If a girl comes to a party dressed like a ‘slut,’ she is probably looking to hook up,” “in general, I try to control the women in my life” and “if a girl gets too drunk at a party, it would be partially her fault if she had sex with someone and didn’t really remember what happened the next day.” Students were also asked how many nights a week they drank, Borum recalled, “and there’s no zero answer provided.”
— Luke (@Luke_Kirtley) April 3, 2017
By deadline, Grand Valley State University did not answer Heat Street’s emailed questions or provide us with a copy of the survey. A spokeswoman said the university was unable to comment, saying many of its communciations staffers were absent this week because of the local K-12 spring break.
Frustrated by the experience, Borum took to Facebook. “It was four words,” he said. “It said, ‘Rape culture isn’t real.’ I just think that there’s really no factual evidence that our society likes to encourage rape. I think that’s actually ridiculous. … For people to say that women here in the United States are living in a ‘rape culture,’ that’s so dismissive to other people in the world where women don’t have rights and are actually are being regularly submitted to rape.”
The backlash was immediate, occurring in 15 minutes or less, Borum said.
On its official Twitter account, Kappa Sigma, where Borum was a member, Tweeted that it did not “accept or identify with” his comments. “RAPE CULTURE IS REAL, whether he understands that or not. We are embarrassed,” the fraternity added.
Josh Perez, the grand master of the fraternity, also issued an immediate statement apologizing for Borum’s “gross, pitiful and downright disrespectful social media post,” adding that the Kappa Sigma executive board would investigate the situation.
“I’m under the impression that [Borum] thinks his demographic as a fraternity person is being targeted, when really what rape culture is is belonging to a society that continually perpetuates the idea that rape and sexual assault is acceptable. And it shouldn’t be,” another Kappa Sigma member told the local Fox affiliate.
Borum said he felt like almost his entire fraternity had turned on him, so he submitted his resignation. Kappa Sigma denied it, saying it wanted to expel him instead, Borum added.
Perez did not answer Heat Street’s emailed questions about Borum’s membership status or the fraternity’s stance on free speech.
“First and foremost, we at Kappa Sigma would like to apologize for the action of an individual within our organization,” Perez wrote in an email. “We hope that you can recognize that his view does not represent the view or the pillars that our Fraternity is built upon.”
Two weeks ago, Grand Valley State University held its elections for student senate, and last week, Borum found out he’d won. His first day as a senator would have been Tuesday—but Borum said he heard other members of the student government were trying to pre-emptively impeach him because of his Facebook post.
The president of the student senate, Ella Fritzmeir, publicly denounced him, Michigan Live reported. By deadline, Fritzmeir did not respond to Heat Street’s request for comment.
Feeling frustrated, Borum also submitted his resignation to the student government. “I’m not going to be a part of an organization that is so hateful and won’t allow diverse thought,” he said.
Sean O’Melia, the student senate’s executive vice president, said Borum’s resignation was entirely of his own accord.
“We respect his decision and his freedom of speech,” O’Melia said. “We as a Senate disagree with his position on rape culture and think that more students such as Patrick could be better educated on sexual assault and how to best advocate to end this important issue. We hope that people can use this is as a learning experience and that more students will be aware of the consequences of their social media uses and the importance of not condoning rape culture or cyber bullying.”
O’Melia seemed to consider the post questioning rape culture to be “cyberbullying”—but all week, Borum said, he’s been deluged with mean messages from other students. He provided one such message to Heat Street as an example.The outcry against Borum wasn’t limited to social media. Grand Valley State University had scheduled a town hall meeting on sexual assault on Tuesday, the same day Borum made his controversial Facebook post. About 100 students attended, and the discussion quickly focused on Borum and his Facebook post.
“I think to deny rape culture is to support rape,” one student said, calling for Borum’s removal from student government before learning he’d already resigned.
“People would pre-suppose that [Borum] could be or possibly was, like, you know, or likely to rape someone because he was a white, fraternity young male,” another student said in a video, which was recorded by MLive.
“Statistics show, yes, he is more likely to,” responded one of the town hall speakers.
She added that “the fact that Pat could say this and think that’s an acceptable thing to say” was evidence “the education we have is not effective, or we’re not going far enough with the education ” about rape culture.
Borum, a junior, says he’s gotten far enough into his education at Grand Valley State University that transferring elsewhere isn’t really an option. He says he’s going to try to graduate early. Still, he’s feeling like most people on campus hate him.
“Now, I feel like everything I thought [about Grand Valley] is crumbling down,” he said. “I thought people would have acted better. I have not been met with any tolerance. I’ve been called a rapist. I’ve been called pro-rape. I’ve been called many things. If there’s a group of people on campus who are tolerant and will talk about the actual discussion rather than name-call, it’s a small minority.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.