For breast cancer awareness month, Rutgers University’s Chi Phi fraternity hung a sign reading “CHI PHI [Heart] BOOBIES.” This sign has sparked a strong response from students. Rutgers student Sara Eschelman wrote an article voicing her thoughts in The Daily Targum—Rutgers’ official student newspaper. She states, “I am not assuming these men as individuals actually do not care. Maybe breast cancer has affected their own lives, but what I am saying is that their language makes it seem as if they do not care, and their message is hurtful and objectifying to those who see it.” Many students felt that the sign was disrespectful, especially due to the seriousness of the cause.
The Daily Targum’s Instagram post sparked further conversation regarding the controversial sign, and the author received a significant amount of backlash. Some students defended the sign by addressing the origins of the slogan. Instagram user @Ricocutz expressed, “The slogan was widely used to spread breast cancer awareness in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Not sure how old you are, but this is old news.”
The phrase “I Heart Boobies” was coined by the Keep A Breast Foundation in 2004 with the goal of “[opening] the door for millions of young people to talk, blog, write, and spread the message about breast cancer awareness and prevention for the first time” (Keep A Breast). This phrase was designed to start the conversation about breast cancer awareness nearly two decades ago. In 2022, many students feel that we should be having more nuanced conversations about breast cancer.
“As a Rutgers student and 4-year female cancer survivor who is deeply in tune with the cancer community, this sign upsets me and I know my feelings are shared by many AYA cancer patients and survivors.”@o_morrison on Instagram
In an official statement posted on their Instagram, Chi Phi president Anthony DiGeronimo states, “we do not appreciate the rather reaching attempt to slander our fraternity.” In saying this, he implies that Eschelman’s point in writing the article was an effort to defame Chi Phi, rather than an expression of genuine hurt as someone who has lost loved ones to cancer. DiGeronimo further claims that Eschleman’s opinion piece is “simply ignorant, senseless, and shallow.” Instead of considering the feelings of those impacted by their sign, Chi Phi frames the article as an attack on their organization. As a result, this unfolding controversy has diverted attention from what should be the focus of breast cancer awareness month: breast cancer patients, survivors, and their loved ones.
Other Chi Phi members cited the fraternity’s philanthropic efforts to defend the sign, disregarding the cancer survivors and families who have been affected. By highlighting their fundraising efforts, Chi Phi dismisses the impact and harm their message has caused. Impact matters just as much as intention, especially with a serious topic like breast cancer. Rather than respecting the opinions of other students, Chi Phi shifts the conversation away from breast cancer awareness and instead focuses on the reputation of the fraternity.
“Do not condescend me and tell me I am missing the point. I think you’re missing the point if all you care about is your frat’s image and not about actual cancer patients/survivors when they tell you they don’t like your sign.”@o_morrison on Instagram
Despite the fact that not all breast cancer survivors and their families found the sign harmful, it is still important to consider the feelings of those who did. Chi Phi’s response has silenced the opinions and invalidated the feelings of many cancer survivors and their loved ones—individuals they claim to support through philanthropy and breast cancer awareness month.