I know the Hill News has published many an anti-rape, pro-girl power, fight-the-privilege-of-the-patriarchy request for the end of sexual assault on college campuses, which aim to mobilize consent and responsiveness by echoing the messages of Emma Sulkowicz and Gloria Steinem. Many, if not all, of these have been admirably empowering. We even dedicated a week to “Women’s Issues.” As an editor of this fine publication, I was happy to contribute to our attempt to raise awareness for such issues, albeit slightly disappointed that it was labeled so exclusively (as if rape on campus is solely a “women’s” issue) and limited to a week. I was even more disappointed in myself for second guessing my motive for writing this piece, thinking, “We already had a women’s week. This isn’t Jezebel. People don’t want to continually read the spew of an angry twenty year old, armed with Microsoft Word and newly discovered twenty-something angst.” So, before I continue, I apologize if you feel this subject is jaded. Maybe you’re tired of reading about rape on campus. Good. Because so am I.
I just finished reading Rolling Stone’s investigative story regarding the history of sexual assault among fraternities at UVA. It was horrifying and eye-opening and exactly what I expected it to be. Stories like this seem to be surfacing more and more (ehem, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee with your specialty cocktail: the date rape daiquiri). People are outraged and disgusted, universities revise their sexual assault policies, and applaud themselves in the PR circuit. It all looks like someone is doing something.
So why am I still reading about it?
I’ve always felt safe at St. Lawrence. It’s not a massive university and fraternities don’t dominate social life like they do at schools like UVA or UNC. I had never personally known anyone at SLU to experience sexual assault, despite the daunting statistic that quotes that 1 in 5 women will be raped during her college experience. I’d never been truly exposed to blatant, privileged misogyny until a few weeks ago, when a guy I’d met only thirty seconds prior felt entitled to put his arm around me and attempt to pull me closer to him. When I uncomfortably diverted his advance and got up to leave, he called me a bitch and asked me if I knew how much I sucked. That same weekend, I heard a story of a young woman who left a party with a guy, both from SLU. They went back to his room, she told him they couldn’t have sex, but he took the liberty to do so anyway. When she told him to stop and asked if he knew her name, he eloquently replied, “I don’t know. I’m blackout.”
Male privilege is horrifying, and it seems that drunkenness is used to excuse it in such situations. And yes, I know, not every guy is out for rape, but there is an undeniable air of privilege among some students at SLU. Whether or not this privilege is the main contributor to cases of rape is up for debate, but it happens, and it happens to our friends, sisters (of both sorority and blood varieties), and housemates. It happens more than it is reported. This became a reality for me after that eye-opening weekend in our very own SLU bubble.
We can add as many new measures for dealing with sexual assault as we want. We can revise our policies and applaud our proactivity until the Saints come marching in. But until it is ingrained in our student body that there is something seriously disturbing about the aggressiveness of the hook-up culture in which so many of us participate, nothing is going to change.
SLU “Carried That Weight”. We empathetically listened to survivors tell their stories during the Take Back the Night Ceremony. For a week, we wore purple and acknowledged that sexual assault is a national problem. We vowed that it would no longer go unreported and unrecognized. We rallied to give a voice to victims. I am writing now in dismay. I do not want to believe our efforts were futile. I do not want to believe that there were people who looked upon our pillows and mattresses and chuckled at our efforts, seeing them as naïve or incapable of making a lasting impression. I know that for a week, some of us took the matter very seriously, but I’m asking now about the other 51 weeks. Take this as your friendly weekly reminder to wake the hell up. You could be a friend of a victim, a victim, or a perpetrator. You could be an ally or a bystander. You could be sick of reading about sexual assault on college campuses. I’m sick too. Sick when I think of that guy who called me a bitch when I didn’t want to sleep with him. Sick when I hear of girls who are hurt and confused about the interactions they’d had with privileged jerks (sexual assault is nothing if not an abuse of perceived privilege). Sick when I think about all the girls that will have a similar experiences and internalize it or blame themselves, because that’s what they’ve been taught.
In order to precipitate an end to sexual assault, there needs to be harsher consequences for perpetrators, including serious jail time. However, before this can happen, assaults need to be reported. I know the intense agony of confronting the fact that one has been sexually assaulted often creates a seemingly unconquerable obstacle for victims. It is my hope that support bases on campuses continue to grow, raise awareness, and empower victims and allies alike to speak up when their basic human rights have been trespassed. If there is never a change in punishment, the perception of unwarranted privilege will proliferate. If it proliferates, there will be more stories like the one that recently emerged from the hallowed frat hall of UVA, and they could come out of any institution of higher education in the country. To hell with Women’s Issues Week. To hell with “Women’s” Issues Week. It’s not just for women. And it’s not just an issue. It’s an epidemic. Consent is sexy. But awareness and a basic respect for human decency are sexier.