UNC’s Interfraternity Council hosted an event Feb. 16 addressing personal development and mental health awareness among young men that has since been criticized by student leaders and others as offensive, misogynistic and otherwise problematic.
The event, titled “Honest Talk, Positive Outcomes,” took place at Memorial Hall and featured David Hagan as its keynote speaker. Publicized by the IFC and Hagan as an event focusing on “the issues facing college men today,” the event was attended by 900 IFC members. Attendance to the event was required by the IFC.
Hagan's organization, LifeBrothers, aims to "help young men all over the country make better choices and habits to deliver their desired future," according to the organization's website. LifeBrothers' programs include workshops, presentations and speaking enagements.
Campus Y Co-Presidents Veda Patil and Thillini Weerakkody obtained anonymous feedback from Memorial Hall staff shortly after the event took place. The feedback alleges Hagan thrusted his hips to give the image of having sex during his presentation and said, “the hours from 12 a.m. to 4 a.m. are for sleeping and f------” and that “there is nothing worse than a dry snatch," among other concerning elements of his speech.
The feedback claims his comments — which allegedly addressed other sensitive topics such as alcohol abuse and sexual assault — made staff feel uncomfortable and led to one female staff member leaving to avoid hearing Hagan’s presentation.
In an email to The Daily Tar Heel, Hagan, founder of Life Brothers LLC, said his presentation is “designed for men and is intentionally blunt, graphic and filled with profanity & slang because that is what I have learned best resonates with young men today.”
‘Program is graphic by design’
A flyer for the event said that attendance was restricted to male students only. The IFC is made up of 27 fraternities at UNC, making it the largest all-male organization on campus.
“On seldom occasions when women have been invited to attend, I have always started my presentation with an explanation that my program is graphic by design,” Hagan said in the email. “At Memorial Hall on February 16, 2020, I mentioned this to the two very helpful female staff members backstage who were working the lights but did not announce this to the entire audience because only IFC members were supposed to be in attendance.”
Hagan said he regrets that his remarks were “considered offensive to women” and suggested that women who have seen the entirety of his presentation enjoy it. He said he would address comments “interpreted as disrespectful to women” in future presentations.
Alli Whitenack, UNC senior and adviser for the UNC Coalition Against Violence, said she learned about Hagan’s presentation about a week after the event. She said plans to address the event with another adviser for Coalition Against Violence, Lucy Russell, were put on hold following UNC’s move to online classes due to the coronavirus.
On April 15, a discussion with IFC President Brandon Wacaser and Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Cassandra Hughes Thomas took place over Zoom with Student Body President Reeves Moseley, Russell, Whitenack, Patil, Weerakkody and Laci Hill, previous co-chair of student safety and wellness for the undergraduate executive branch.
Whitenack and Russell said that during the call, Wacaser agreed to release a public statement by April 17 on behalf of the IFC that would address certain points identified by the Zoom group. The points included detailing and condemning Hagan’s actions, stating Hagan would not be invited back to UNC, listing specific UNC organizations to partner with and expressing support for survivors of sexual assault.
Whitenack said Wacaser sent an updated statement the next day, but the group felt it was still insufficient. She said at that point, the student leaders on the call decided to stop working directly with Wacaser to pursue other methods of accountability.
“If this were a perfect world, David Hagan wouldn’t have come or said those things,” Whitenack said. “But also, (IFC) would’ve responded in a way that was genuine and expressed support for survivors. We felt he was not respecting our time or energy, or really treating the situation like it was serious or needed addressing.”
‘Not only disrespectful and vulgar language’
The Campus Y executive board released a statement on April 29 criticizing the IFC’s failure to release a public statement “regarding the implications and problematic nature of this event.” The statement also outlined several demands for accountability, including a public statement from the IFC, an IFC commitment to violence prevention training, accountability for the 900 IFC members who attended and a public apology to Memorial Hall staff.
Wacaser said in an email statement that he was concerned the IFC statement has been viewed as an internal one, “despite its dissemination to all parties involved.” Wacaser said those parties included Campus Y representatives, Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life staff, Student Government and chapter presidents.
Wacaser also said while he is a proponent of free speech and does not support censoring on-campus speakers, he is “fully supportive” of the criticism that has emerged regarding Hagan’s presentation.
“If given an opportunity to preview a speech’s content, I would not allow a presentation that included the phrases and words such as those spoken during the IFC event on February 16,” Wacaser said in the email.
He noted that Hagan has since apologized and is committed to changing the content of his presentations. Wacaser said he would like to see the conversation “move on from the analysis of Mr. Hagan’s speech,” and instead focus on the “active roles we as fraternity men can play in the UNC community and beyond in support of those who have experienced sexual assault.”
Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jonathan Sauls said in an email statement that the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life became aware of Hagan's "offensive comments" immediately following the event.
Sauls also said the University must allow student organizations to choose their own speakers in compliance with the First Amendment.
“However, upholding the law does not mean the University endorses or approves of such speech in any way,” Sauls said. “The University strongly condemns any misogynistic speech or actions.”
Since the event, Sauls said OFSL has worked with IFC to develop additional training and programming for IFC members to create opportunities “for ongoing dialogue that address interpersonal violence prevention and survivor support.” This training has been in partnership with Student Wellness, the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office and other violence prevention groups on campus, Sauls said.
Russell, another adviser for the Coalition Against Violence, said she believes the comments made are concerning given the history of violence and sexual assault associated with fraternities, referencing the 2019 Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey released last October. The survey found that more than a third of undergraduate female respondents reported being sexually assaulted at UNC, and incidents occurred most often in university dorms, fraternity houses and other residences.
“It was not only disrespectful and vulgar language,” Russell said. “What I fear is how the people in the audience are complicit in supporting that kind of rhetoric, and I fear that leads to them making choices that harm others.”
Though Hagan said he plans to change future presentations, he said he is being criticized for a small portion of his program. In an apology addressed to Memorial Hall management, Hagan said many of his comments were presented out of context.
“Of the 60 slides in my PowerPoint presentation, only 5 contain the sexual content that was cited as objectionable so, if your staff did not attend the entire presentation, they missed the vast majority of my message,” he said in the letter. “The quotes/actions cited as offensive were each mere snippets which were taken completely out of context as they were each part of a much longer discussion of inappropriate behaviors which men must avoid.”
Wacaser, along with several IFC members who submitted anonymous feedback to Hagan, said Hagan’s comments were part of a much larger conversation about mental health that is now being overlooked.
‘It has to be a constant process’
On April 29, the Delta Chi Fraternity at UNC released a statement condemning the event and its own delay in publicly responding to it. At the time of publication, this statement was the only one released by a fraternity in attendance of the Feb. 16 event.
“We believe that Hagan’s presentation normalized and trivialized sexual assault, and was sexist and demeaning towards women,” the statement said. “We reject the IFC’s claim that Hagan’s remarks were merely ‘perceived as insensitive towards women and survivors of sexual assault.’ They were perceived that way because that is exactly what they were.”
The statement concluded by thanking Campus Y for its statement and promising to be more proactive in pursuing the fraternity's “core value” of social justice.
Following the release of the Delta Chi statement, Whitenack urged Wacaser in an email to release a response to the event.
“IFC has yet to make any sort of public statement. This is beyond unacceptable,” Whitenack wrote. “You are actively continuing to normalize systems of oppression in your community.”
The UNC Coalition Against Violence also started a petition titled, “Hold the UNC Interfraternity Council Accountable.” At the time of publication, the petition had 850 signatures.
Russell said she has been heartened to see individual responses of apology to the event, which she hopes will catalyze a strengthened effort at UNC for violence prevention. She believes that in addition to the IFC releasing a public statement taking accountability for the event, the University should also condemn the event publicly.
“Violence prevention isn’t a box that can just be checked,” Whitenack said. “This is going to be a constant process; it has to be a constant process for them.”
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