By David Kobe & Lexy Burton
Two high profile University officials recently appeared on the controversial, student-run podcast “The House of Scaife," which frequently perpetuates predatory sexual behavior. The podcasts were hosted by members of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity (ATO), including three members who had been dismissed by WGRE and D3TV.
DePauw President Mark McCoy and Head Football Coach Bill Lynch both said they were unaware of the podcast’s usual content.
In the past five years, the DePauw University administration has made a concerted effort to lead a positive conversation on sexual assault by supporting anti-assault groups such as Code T.E.A.L, the Green Dot initiative, and Feminista. Despite these efforts, the podcast producers were able to speak in support of what many student organizations consider to be derogatory sexual rhetoric using university-owned equipment.
“The House of Scaife” podcast received significant backlash after The DePauw published “‘House of Scaife’ Podcast Can Change DePauw’s Date Rape Culture for the Better,” an opinion piece, by Professor Douglas Harms, a faculty advocate for Code T.E.A.L. This opinion piece appeared in the May 3 issue.
“This podcast is the standard bearer of rape culture, exhibiting major characteristics of this deplorable approach to sex: objectification of women, absence of mutual respect for sexual partners, egocentrism and selfishness, predatory pack mentality (e.g., referring to group members as “hounds”), and no mention or concern regarding consent,” Harms wrote.
In his piece, Harms challenged members of the fraternity to change their content. “I hope they can transform their podcast to become one where healthy and consensual sexual practices are openly and actively discussed and promoted,” Harms wrote.
Within hours following the publication of Harms’s opinion column, “The House of Scaife” podcast creators deleted their public YouTube and SoundCloud pages and removed their official Instagram account. The Soundcloud profile account a featured an image of DePauw senior John Cusumano, the host of “The House of Scaife.”
Using veiled language, “The House of Scaife”’s Cusumano, along with his weekly guests, was able to openly talk about sexual endeavors as well as book University officials on his podcast.
“Scaife,” a term found in the title of the podcast and used frequently amongst hosts and guests, serves as a euphemism with multiple meanings. Most commonly, the term is used as a stand-in for “women.”
Using the podcast center in the Eugene Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media (PCCM) as a means for production of the podcast, Cusumano invited both President McCoy and Lynch to participate on the podcast without them knowing the content of the podcast prior to their interviews.
President McCoy recognized his ignorance to the content of the podcast after he recorded an episode that went unaired. President McCoy was eventually made aware of the show’s content from a note by a concerned DePauw student.
“I was unaware what this particular one [student media] was about,” President McCoy said. “My conversation with him [Cusumano] was very much above board and it was fine. I never heard the name and I never heard anything about its history. Once I did hear about it, I asked to be removed from it and he agreed.”
Lynch expressed similar unfamiliarity. Lynch appeared on the third episode of the podcast.
“It’s really hard for me to answer this. I haven’t heard the podcast, so I can’t speak to the content. I did the interview with John, several months ago, early in the semester,” Lynch said.
“The House of Scaife” originally aired last fall on WGRE, hosted by Cusumano.
WGRE’s board of directors were made aware of the explicit content of the programming after three weeks of the show airing. They gave Cusumano a warning to change his content. Cusumano failed to comply and Professor Jeff McCall, faculty advisor to WGRE, Megan Wagner, station manager, and Julia Dillon, programming director, notified him that he was officially kicked off the station on Sept. 19, according to Dillon.
In the first episode of “The House of Scaife,” Cusumano describes why he was removed from WGRE. “A lot of people were asking me ‘What happened to you? Why did you get kicked off?’ Well some people find it offensive if you’re talking and educating young hounds on how to scaife,” Cusumano said.
After the show was dismissed from WGRE, students involved with the show asked Director of the PCCM, Jonathan Nichols-Pethick, to use the podcast equipment and studio located in the lower level of the PCCM the following semester.
Nichols-Pethick is the head of the Pulliam Center, where all student media, including The DePauw, is located. While he sits on the University Board of Publication and has certain financial oversight capacity for The DePauw, he is not involved in the newspaper’s day-to-day operations nor its editorial content.
Cusumano was not the first student affiliated with the “The House of Scaife” podcast to approach Nichols-Pethick. “He [Cusumano] came to me at the beginning of this semester, but I will say another student approached me first and said he was working with a senior to produce the podcast,” Nichols-Pethick said.
Nichols-Pethick said his last interaction with the students involved with the show was helping them learn how to work the podcast equipment, months before the podcast was brought to the attention of Harms and President McCoy.
After Nichols-Pethick discovered that WGRE had removed “The House of Scaife” from their programming, he listened to their first two episodes for any indication legal lines were being crossed.
In addition to Cusumano’s dismissal from WGRE, two guests of “The House of Scaife” Episode 5: Scaife and Big Events and Episode 6: Scaifing at Themed Parties, seniors Kevin Kiyosaki and Cody Baker, were both dismissed for drinking alcohol in the D3TV studio during a production of Tiger Sports Nation on Feb. 18, according to Senior Managing Consultant at D3TV Madison McIntyre.
On “The House of Scaife,” Cody Baker described his dismissal as being “due to a liquid problem.”
Members of ATO fraternity are predominately featured on the podcast. Cusumano, Kiyosaki, Baker, among other guests including Will Longthorne, John Vitale, and Graham Ganshirt are all members of the fraternity.
Senior Anthony Sciarrino is featured on one podcast that was formerly available on SoundCloud and YouTube. According to the 2016-2017 Greek Leadership Directory, Sciarrino served as the ATO Recruitment Chair in the fall of 2016.
Sciarrino speaks specifically about recruitment in Episode 5: Scaife and Big Events. “I took a little hiatus from the show. I took on a new role within my life and the ATO fraternity. I decided to be more of a recruitment, um you know, to recruit fellow scaife hounds,” Sciarrino said.
Later in the podcast Sciarrino described what types of individuals he was recruiting to ATO. “We’re looking for people that want to go out every night and get scaife,” Sciarrino said.
When Cusumano asked, “Is there like a moral code or a moral guideline you look for when you’re looking for a scaife hound? Is there anything you really specifically look for in a scaife hound that morally makes you look like a better person?”
Sciarrino simply answered, “To be honest with you, no.”
When a reporter from The DePauw contacted Sciarrino about his involvement with the show, he had a short response. "I am not affiliated with the show at all," he said in an email. "I was on one show and other than that I don't listen to it. Please stop involving me in this. It is John's thing and he will respond to Doug Harms's piece."
Cusumano declined an interview but has submitted a response to Prof. Harm’s in the May 10 issue of The DePauw.
WGRE’s Federal Communications Commission license is issued under the board of trustees of the University. For this reason, radio show hosts are not afforded the same first amendment rights as a normal citizen. Their speech reflects the licensees. For this reason, WGRE had the authority to dismiss Cusumano.
“The House of Scaife” was produced using Pulliam Center equipment that was independent of any official student media, Nichols-Pethick said. After he learned several weeks ago that the podcast producers had been removed from WGRE he decided to review the podcasts.
“What I did hear was something that I personally couldn't condone, but I was uncertain about what authority I had to remove them from that studio space since it was not set up with any policy or user agreements,” Nichols-Pethick said, “and they weren’t crossing any lines that are protected by general rules about freedom of speech, so I decided that I had to put my personal distaste aside at that moment.”
Nichols-Pethick confirmed in an email that he listened to two episodes of the podcast after learning that the host of the show had been removed from WGRE.
“I found that content to be offensive, frankly juvenile, and I listened very closely for legal issues and didn't find those. I had to make a judgement call on the role of the center in dictating content and if I erred, I erred on the side of legal caution with regard to the freedom of people to speak,” said Nichols-Pethick
While the show’s interview with Lynch was good natured, the podcast continued to perpetuate sexually predatory rhetoric.
In the fifth episode of “The House of Scaife” Sciarrino said, “If you don’t remember any of it then what’s the point of scaifing, if you don’t remember?”
In the sixth episode of “The House of Scaife,” Senior John Vitale spoke about date parties at ATO. “There’s a group of women who just need to get in there and then once they’re in the door they’re just like ‘Hey I got invited to this date party’ I’m just here to be scaife,” Vitale said.
Code T.E.A.L. President Christina Seung was concerned surrounding the normalization of sexually assailant behavior in regards to “The House of Scaife.”
“The reason it’s so concerning is a lot of people were pretty active listeners on the show and found it to be a joke or in good humour,” Seung said, “which is understandable, but at the same time I think that’s because there is a huge misunderstanding of what certain behaviors can do in terms of contributing to rape culture.”
Christina Seung echoed a sentiment that Code T.E.A.L. emphasizes. “Rapists aren’t scary strangers hiding in the bushes,” Seung said. “People who contribute to rape culture are just normal people and if we don’t realize that we aren’t going to change how we act on the campus.”
Nichols-Pethick explained the current policies regarding the podcast center.
“The podcast studio initially did not have a policy attached to it in terms of standards for use and there was just an expectation that you wouldn’t bring food or drink in there, but there was no clearly stated mandate for how this space could be used and for what,” Nichols-Pethick said.
Officials at The Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media are reevaluating the terms and conditions necessary for students to use the space.
“In light of everything that has happened we are stepping back and this summer we will be crafting one that clearly lays out the parameters of that space,” Nichols-Pethick said.
Title IX Coordinator Renee Madison confirmed there were no reports about the content of the podcast prior to Harms’s opinion piece featured in Wednesday's issue of The DePauw.
Although Madison would not reveal specific reports or complaints, she did confirm that revisions are made to the student handbook every year as a result of specific reports.
“We can’t foresee everything and whenever something happens it gives us an opportunity for self examination and then do we need to think about things differently, those conversations happen on a regular basis here,” Madison said. “Over the summer is where we do the big chunk of our policy revisions, but we are going to go back and say okay, this came up and the result was this, is this what we meant our policy to say.”
Madison confirmed that the University had made revisions to the sexual misconduct policy for the 2016-2017 Academic year and will continue to evaluate policies moving forward into the summer.