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Students Divided Over Songbook Advocating Violence to Women : UCLA: Some say lyrics published by fraternity are no more than an offensive joke. Others urge sanctions by the university.

March 06, 1992|STEPHANIE CHAVEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On UCLA's fraternity and sorority row Thursday, some said that fraternity song lyrics that advocate violence against women are crude jokes that should be taken no more seriously than extreme rap music or insult comedian Andrew Dice Clay.

Others, however, say that "Songs of Phi Kappa Psi," which urges the use of chain saws, cheese graters and whips as instruments of sexual torture, represents the worst kind of sexism and is grounds for immediate sanctions against the fraternity.

Inside the spacious fraternity and sorority houses on the fringes of the Westwood campus, clusters of students were quick to launch into intense discussions about the 1989 songbook whose sexually explicit lyrics often celebrate mutilation, cannibalism, necrophilia and sadism--such as using a cheese grater to mutilate a woman's breasts. Many students were torn between defending the honor of their Greek system and expressing abhorrence of the material.

"These songs are like a joke--let's see how disgusting and dirty you can make it," saidJody Gree, 21, a sorority member. "That fraternity has their right to free speech and to have fun. . . . It's not like they are singing it in front of us."

The songbook surfaced several weeks ago when a copy was anonymously dropped off at the office of the cam pus feminist magazine, Together. Under the heading "Raunchy Songs" were explicit lyrics to be sung to melodies such as "Candy Man" and "Heigh-Ho." Some of the songs were printed in Wednesday's edition of the Daily Bruin News.

Several men and women said they were not surprised by the songbook lyrics, saying it was not unusual for fraternity and sorority groups to write and sing obscene songs in the privacy of their initiation rites or during late-night parties.

"We know the guys don't mean it," said sorority member Nicole Rodriguez, 22. "In no way are we mad at the Phi Psis."

The lyrics were decried by campus women's groups who delivered a copy to Chancellor Charles E. Young and called on university administration to investigate the fraternity.

"I am revolted that a fraternity songbook exists at UCLA that contains lyrics that are sexist, homophobic and violent," Young said Thursday.

"I find it unconscionable that such a document could be created by UCLA students," he said.

Administration officials will investigate whether action should be taken against any Phi Psi members or the house itself, which has been suspended since last spring for "major alcohol violations" at a raucous party, said Allen Yarnell, vice chancellor of student and campus life.

Party-goers also painted sexually offensive graffiti on walls. "Considering the songbook, one can only imagine" what they wrote, Yarnell said.

In 1991 the fraternity signed a contract promising not to engage in sexist or anti-gay conduct. Fraternity President Chris Lee said Wednseday that the songbook was distributed to this year's pledges by some fraternity members.

Phi Psi fraternity leaders could not be reached for comment Thursday.

During a lunchtime discussion in one fraternity house, members who spoke on the condition that they not be named acknowledged that their members have at times sung obscene songs. But they said that the Phi Psi lyrics are the most offensive they have seen.

"We have songs, but not like that. I'd never sing a song like that," said one 21-year-old man. "What angers me is that this is not a big deal. The songs are such an infinitesimally small part of our system, they are not what we are all about."

Abby Nelson, president of the 13-sorority Panhellenic Council and a women's studies major, said she was "deeply offended and shocked" by the lyrics, especially because her sorority house was singled out in one of the songs as the object of violent sexual acts.

"I think this is a major problem and we have to deal with it," Nelson said. "I have heard some fraternity songs before that are degrading to women, but never anything so blatant."

She said that at an Inter-Fraternity Council meeting Monday, she will propose a series of workshops on sexual harassment and rape awareness issues for fraternity and sorority members.

"I think there is a general feeling on campus that all Greeks do this," Nelson said. "That is simply not true. This is one event and I think it scares a lot of people. It has made us realize we need more education."

Inside the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house, where a wide-screen television blasted the latest Metallica hard-rock video, Chris Carson read the lyrics for the first time, his face growing slightly flushed.

"This is really bad, really bad." he said. "There's no way I would sing a song like this. I have a girlfriend, a sister, a mother. This is not what we are about."

He talked with fellow fraternity member Kevin Stricke, 20, and the two agreed: It comes down to both a free-speech issue, and a misunderstanding by non-fraternity students about the intent of such sexually explicit songs.

"I think they songs are wrong, but when I hear them, I chuckle," Stricke said. "They are so exaggerated, so sick that they can't be taken seriously. It's like watching 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.' "

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