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Controversial Instagram story starts conversation on sexual violence

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A former University at Albany student posted dozens of student stories of rape and sexual assault via Instagram last week, starting a campus-wide discussion about victims, fraternities, and what the best way to shed light on the issue is.

Simultaneously, a university-wide email Friday from Student Affairs announced discipline against a fleet of Greek life organizations.

The university said in a statement that the announcement had nothing to do with the posts, but that the Office of Equity and Compliance was currently reviewing the Instagram story.

Elijah Dryden, a former EOP student, called on his 1,802 followers on Wednesday to direct message (DM) him their stories of rape or sexual violence at UAlbany.

By Friday, Dryden had screenshotted dozens of conversations and posted them to his Instagram Story, blocking out the users’ names by their request.

Dryden said in an email Friday that the project started when a friend called him out for being sexually immature.

Afterwards, the pair brainstormed how they could use their platforms to do good in the world.

“This conversation is not an easy one, if anyone has been hurt in any way shape or form I sincerely apologize,” Dryden said.

“However due to my own experiences, I felt the need to expose these stories as the greater good. You see these men make careers and families and businesses meanwhile women are left distraught.”

Soon students and student organizations began to take note of Dryden’s posts.

On Thursday, anonymous allegations against fraternities began to populate Dryden’s Instagram story.

One fraternity that Dryden shared followers’ messages about, Lambda Upsilon Lambda (also known as La Unidad Latina), was among the groups that the Friday Student Affairs email announced were prohibited from taking new members.

In fact, all five fraternities that are under the Interfraternity Council at UAlbany are barred from pledging.

President Tess Edwards of Two and a Half, a sexual assault awareness group, thought that Elijah’s message could have gone out a better way.

“I agree that many organizations on our campus have ignored certain issues for far too long,” Edwards said in an email. “However, I do believe that calling these organizations to action should have occurred in a more civil manner, and that actual discussion, education, and prevention is necessary in order to make a change; this goes beyond social media.”

In the campus-wide message Friday, Michael Christakis, vice president of Student Affairs, acknowledged that hazing and other criminal activity has gone on at the university.

“I am writing you today to re-state in the clearest and strongest terms possible that this kind of misconduct will not be tolerated and will be met with the most serious disciplinary sanctions available to the University, up to and including dismissal/expulsion,” Christakis said in the email.

University spokesperson Jordan Carleo-Evangelist said Friday that the message was only meant to coincide with the end of fraternity and sorority rush on campus.

“The health, safety and well-being of our entire campus community is our foremost concern,” Carleo-Evangelist said.

Student Association president Langie Cadesca criticized Dryden’s social media activity, sending him a message that was met with harsh pushback by Dryden and some of his followers.

Cadesca and Dryden both endured EOP’s five-week summer program in 2015.

On Thursday, Cadesca reached out to Dryden with the hope of having a conversation over the phone.

Instead, she sent a message cautioning that these posts could do damage to the community.

“I will say I let my emotions get the best of me,” Cadesca said in an interview Friday. “I should have waited for the phone call, because now this is being portrayed in a manner that I did not intend.”

Cadesca said swiping through Dryden’s Instagram story brought back a traumatic memory of when she was sexually assaulted in high school.

“When I saw it, I didn’t understand what was the positive influence,” Cadesca said.

“Like are we doing this because we just want to rile up the community, or are we doing this because we really want to change the status quo of sexual assault on college campuses?”

The Multi-Cultural Resource Center and Student Association are working together to possibly host an open house sexual assault discussion forum, Cadesca said.

Cadesca noted her position as vice president of UAlbany’s Epsilon Nu chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority had nothing to do with her actions.

The university urged anyone with information about these posts to contact the Office of Equity and Compliance at (518) 442-3800 or the University Police Department at (518) 442-3131.

“Anyone in need of counseling or support services, for this or any other reason, is urged to contact University Counseling and Psychological Services at (518) 442-5800, or the Advocacy Center for Sexual Violence at (518) 442-2273,” said Carleo-Evangelist.

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Joe Hoffman is the managing editor for the Albany Student Press.

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