A sexist banner hung near the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus during move-in has upset a number of people in the community after social media drew attention to the incident.

A group of UW-L students and their friends hung a banner off their apartment balcony on North 15th Street Friday afternoon that offered a lewd sexual act for those with a valid freshman ID. By Sunday, the banner had gone viral on social media after UW-L student Demi Dahl shared Instagram photos taken by the students who hung the banner.

“An unfortunate example of promoting rape culture on the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Campus,” Dahl’s Facebook post read. “You may think this was a harmless joke but the reality is that the more we see posts like this online, the more rape culture is normalized in our society.”

By Tuesday morning, the post had been shared more than 1,650 times and had received more than 75 comments. Most congratulated Dahl for her post and drawing attention to sexism on the UW-L campus, while a few others defended the actions of the male students as a harmless and immature joke.

“Keep speaking out Demi,” one person posted. “Only way to raise awareness and make change.”

When asked to comment on her post and the incident, Dahl referred reporters to UW-L administration.

Ingrid Peterson, the violence prevention coordinator at UW-L, said the issue of sexual violence and harassment is a big deal for many students, especially during their first few weeks on campus.

Between one-in-five and one-in-four college females will be the victim of sexual assault during their academic career, she said, with that number one-in-10 for male students. While the sign didn’t threaten physical violence, it did objectify women’s bodies, treating them like sexual objects instead of human beings, which contributes to a culture where women do not feel safe on campus.

“We want UW-L to be a home for all students,” she said. “These acts disrupt that for people. They’re insulting and off-putting and can make people feel fearful.”

As campuses do more to combat sexism and sexual assault, more attention has been drawn to these incidents, especially as they can be easily documented on social media. According to USA Today, the Sigma Nu chapter at Old Dominion University was suspended in 2015 after hanging banners that read “Freshman daughter drop off.” That same year, Ohio State was in the news for similar offensive banners telling parents where to drop off their daughters.

UW-L vice chancellor for student life Paula Knudson said she learned about the incident on Saturday after a number of students reported the banner and its negative impact on the community. She said she has identified the students and reached out to them to have a conversation about the incident and how inappropriate it was.

One of the students who reported the banner was UW-L senior Grace Mortenson, who said she was verbally accosted by the male students on the balcony when she came back to take pictures of the banner. She said she was taken aback when she saw it, and immediately felt uncomfortable and fearful of the impact it would have on others.

“I am disappointed that anyone thought that it was OK or funny,” she said. “This wasn’t just a joke in passing. It was premeditated.”

Bubba Davis, a sophomore at UW-L and one of the residents in the apartment where the banner was hung, said he and his friends came up with the idea after seeing a similar post on a social media site dedicated to fraternity life. He said hanging the banner was obviously a vulgar joke, but the banner only hung during the evening on Friday after move-in hours and he and his friends were sorry that people were hurt by it.

He said people have responded online by threatening him and his friends with violence or calling them rapists and part of rape culture. While immature, he said the sign didn’t threaten force or violence against anyone.

“To call us rapists is insulting,” he said. “I just thought it would get attention for one day and cause a couple of laughs.”

Many of the female students walking to and from classes Tuesday morning near the apartment had heard about or seen the banner. Many called it offensive, in poor taste or an immature joke that shouldn’t have been done. Others agreed it was in poor taste, but with the backlash online, hoped the students had learned their lesson.

Other students said they were shocked to see something like this in La Crosse, and that the banner was rude and inappropriate no matter what. One student said these comments shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially as colleges focus more and more on the issue of sexual violence.

Elizabeth Gogolin, a junior at UW-L, said the banner was definitely offensive, and couldn’t see why people would think it was just a harmless joke. A lot of people deal with trauma due to sexual violence, she said, and it is embarrassing that UW-L is added to the list of universities that have had a sexist move-in banner like this go viral.

“I was kind of taken aback,” she said. “I’ve seen the banner a lot on social media. I didn’t expect to see something like this here.”

“I was kind of taken aback. ... I didn’t expect to see something like this here.” Elizabeth Gogolin, junior at UW-L

Between one-in-five and one-in-four women in college will be the victim of sexual assault during her academic career.

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Nathan Hansen has been the Education Reporter for the Tribune since 2014. Prior to that, he covered education, agriculture and business topics for the Winona Daily News. He is always on the lookout for news tips and can be contacted at 608-791-8234.

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