Title IX bias report filed against Poobah


Natalie McMillan

By Natalie McMillan and Jordan Cone

A Title IX bias report was submitted to the college Feb. 11 against Phi Omega Phi fraternity following a rush activity that included a slideshow containing the body parts of female Augustana students, including breasts and buttocks.

According to multiple people in attendance, the slideshow played for about 90 minutes while members of Phi Omega Phi – or “Poobahs” – hosted potential new members. They directed potential members to look at the photos, making comments such as “Hope you guys enjoy the slideshow.”

Rush is an annual Greek Life event that typically takes place one weekend per year. It allows potential new members (PNMs) to formally meet members of sororities and fraternities on campus.

The Poobah’s event, according to attendees, included traditional rush elements along with the slideshow. The Observer attempted to contact 10 members of the Poobah fraternity. None agreed to be interviewed.

“It was basically pictures of the fraternity going on throughout their activities and whatnot, sort of inter-placed with women baring their breasts,” first-year Carter Kenney said. “[The people in the photos] did have, like, everything covered up, but you could still see it.”

Senior Catherine Priebe, a member of the Phi Rho sorority and the Title IX Student Advisory Committee, said she submitted the bias report after being approached by a Rho Gamma, a Greek Life member who guides PNMs through the rush process. This Rho Gamma said a PNM expressed discomfort regarding the slideshow.

“I wanted to make sure it wasn’t strictly seen as a Greek Life issue,” Priebe said. “I wanted it to have more of an administrative quality about it.”

According to the Greek Council president, senior Mia Gerace, Greek Council is legally unable to address the incident as a result of the report being submitted to Title IX.

Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator Laura Schnack said in an email, “Details of an investigation and its outcome are rarely made public. It is our policy to limit communication on these matters, out of respect for the privacy rights of those involved.

“Augustana College is committed to promoting an environment that is safe, welcoming and inclusive for all members of our community. Our offices rely on students to share in the commitment to our values and to intervene or report incidents that violate our community values.”

“It’s hard to place the blame because I don’t want it to be all on Greek Life,” Gerace said. “I don’t want Greek Life to take it as a whole because we are a community and we should be regulating each other and supporting each other. But in some ways it needs to be placed somewhere because it’s not fair for all of us to bear the blame of one group’s slip up.”

Despite Gerace’s fear, none of the PNMs who agreed to speak with The Observer expressed dissatisfaction with the entirety of Greek Life – just discomfort with the Poobah event.

“It was kind of disappointing to see this group of men that are kind of on the precipice of their career putting this slideshow up,” Kenney said. “I felt more like I was in a room full of middle or high schoolers.”

First-year Eli Bates said the slideshow was “inherently sexist.”

“It’s objectifying women. It’s degrading. It’s just inappropriate,” Bates said. “It’s awkward for people who don’t like to think that’s an OK thing to do. I know for me, when I got to Rush and they started showing the slideshow … I’m standing there with like two other guys who are gay and we’re all like, ‘This is weird.’ This is like heteronormative – it’s gross – I don’t want to see this, I don’t care to see this. I’m sure even straight guys who are here like are like, ‘This is kind of weird.’”

Priebe said that she filed especially on the behalf of any bi, gay or queer men who may have felt uncomfortable, along with the fact that she felt like it wasn’t a respectful representation of her gender.

“More importantly, I wanted to make sure that the women in the images were protected,” Priebe said. “If the circumstances in which the pictures were taken were coercive, if they were not fully aware of the circumstances that their images were going to be used for … that they were going to get the help and resources they need.”

According to Priebe, the images promote messages of rape culture and of women’s bodies belonging to men, and more specifically that they can be earned through pledging the fraternity.

“The one thing that made me feel iffy is the fact that they were acting very official, all wearing suits and ties. They were talking about what their group was about. And they were talking…about volunteer work and just like being friends to each other, and brothers and stuff like that,” first-year Miles Potje said. “But it was the fact that they were not giving off that kind of fun, playful vibe and then they’re asking very raunchy questions and they were showing the slideshow so it seemed like they were lying about what their group was about.”

Priebe said she hopes that the fraternity receives more than just a talking to as multiple people have confirmed that the slideshow had been presented at several previous Rush events.

“I think at this point, the fact that [the slideshow] went on for multiple years, stopped last year and continued this year proves to me that education is obviously not helping,” Priebe said.

Many students and alumni are tired of similar events repeating within the fraternity.

“I was ashamed to hear of the Poobah slideshow,” Augustana alumnus and Chi Alpha Pi member Haley Ochs said. “Overall, I feel like we, as a community, do our best to provide a safe and protective environment for our members and potential new members. In this case, I think that the Poobah’s failed us. They’re perpetuating a false idea of what it means to be Greek at Augustana, which encourages the wrong kind of people to join.”

Priebe said that these kinds of images could potentially damage the future of the women in the slideshow, and it is the responsibility of the administration to investigate.

“I would just encourage people to understand that we don’t have all the information around the circumstances in which those pictures were taken. I don’t know who the women are,” Priebe said. “The desire to know the identity of these women is a distraction from the greater issue of why were these women even asked in the first place.”