Sexual Assault at CMC, Time to Talk
At the February 3 ASCMC Executive Board Meeting, two representatives of Scripps Associated Students sought support for a poster campaign against sexual assault. The posters feature drunk women in vulnerable positions (passed out at a party, for example), paired with slogans such as “just because she’s drunk, doesn’t mean she wants to fuck” and “don’t be that guy.” The campaign met criticism from ASCMC representatives; some thought that the posters attacked all (CMC) men as potential perpetrators of sexual assault, while others argued that CMC students would dismiss the posters as “typical Scrippsie hyperbole.” The Board decided to put the posters to a committee for further consideration.
ASCMC’s Executive Board members, who are working hard to combat sexual assault on campus, should not be disparaged for verbalizing those concerns. In voicing their opinions about how they believe CMC’s students would respond to the posters, the board members were merely doing their jobs and representing their constituency. But the student body should ask itself if—and why—that might be its response to the poster campaign. We could thereby start a long-overdue dialogue about the posters’ topic. Whether we want to admit it or not, sexual assault happens on CMC’s campus. “That guy” exists, even if he is in the minority. And if we want to change those facts, we have to talk about the issue and do so respectfully.
Unfortunately, all too often the conversation is belittled when efforts are made to discuss those matters. Whether through the use of “feminist” as a negative epithet or phrases like “typical Scrippsie,” students who are concerned with the prevalence of sexual violence on campus are frequently trivialized and derided. Stigmatizing feminist discourse often silences students and particularly women, who feel like they cannot speak out for fear of being chastised by their peers. To be clear, feminist, as a general term, simply implies someone who seeks gender equality (thus we hope that all CMC students would consider themselves feminists). That is not to say that there are not many different ideologies that fall under the banner of feminism, some more radical than others. But, since most feminists simply advocate for egalitarianism, we should question why we view feminism as a perspective exclusive to Scripps and one antithetical to CMC’s culture. In a community that prides itself on producing the leaders of tomorrow, we do ourselves a disservice by maintaining the bad habit of anti-feminist (and thus sexist) discourse that increasingly will not be tolerated in mainstream workplaces. In fact, most companies value employees who understand and are sensitive to social issues that are in the process of being integrated into company culture.
Stigmatizing feminist discourse, though a problem in itself, makes addressing the issue of sexual assault more difficult. And there is indeed a violence problem at CMC: according to a recently released Campus Safety Report, in 2011, five out of the seven forcible sex offenses reported (and most are not) across the five campuses took place at CMC. That does not mean that those perpetrators attend the college. But while CMC might serve as a social hub for students from all the campuses, we do not host anywhere near the proportionate 70% of all social events at the 5Cs (or even those at which alcohol is served). In addition, according to friends at the other schools, CMC is believed to be more dangerous for women than the other campuses. Seniors at the other colleges warn their first years to be wary of CMC men, who are considered relatively pushy. Clearly these are stereotypes, but it is important for us to consider the ways in which our college culture might be more likely to encourage sexual assault than those at other similarly sized colleges. Getting defensive about the problem further perpetuates the negative climate by normalizing and excusing assault; we should face this issue together, taking the lead in protecting the women in our community.
Again, the people who perpetrate sexual assaults are likely a small minority. Men who have never committed or attempted sexual assault should not see the poster campaign as an attack on them. Instead, the campaign attacks mindsets that can often lead to or support sexual assault; these include views of entitlement to women’s bodies or simply mistaken conceptions of what constitutes consent. An implicit and sometimes explicit belief exists that because a woman drank or dressed a certain way, she wants intercourse. Many people might not know where to stop or what counts as sexual assault, or bystanders might notice that women’s body language indicates they are not capable of consent but not know how best to intervene. To clear up any confusion about how our college’s administration defines consent, CMC’s new sexual assault policy states:
Consent is active, not passive. Silence, in and of itself, cannot be interpreted as consent… In order to give effective consent, one must…have the capacity to give consent…Incapacitation is a state in which someone cannot make rational, reasonable decisions…(e.g., to understand the “who, what, when, where, why or how” of their sexual interaction). Sexual activity with someone who…based on the circumstances should reasonably have known to be mentally or physically incapacitated (i.e. by alcohol or other drug use…), constitutes a violation of this policy.
The posters are simply meant to help promote that message. The campaign understandably narrows its focus to men, given that most perpetrators of sexual assault are male. Yet the mere categorization of “that guy” suggests that these men are a small subset of the entire male population. That being said, everyone has a role to play. As Sandra Fluke pointed out in her recent speech at the Athenaeum, men can have an immense impact on other men’s perceptions of consent by influencing the language used in spaces in which women are absent. The growth of male-led national organizations such as Men Can Stop Rape reflects an increasing understanding that men, too, can take a stand on this issue. We all have a responsibility to look out for each other, to intervene if someone appears incapable of consent, and to check in with our partners if there’s even the least bit of uncertainty. The vast majority of CMC students—male and female—are already friendly and caring to one another, a primary reason why our school consistently ranks as one of the happiest in the country. Together, we should strive to create a campus culture in which mutually enthusiastic consent is clearly understood, valued, and expected in all sexual encounters; we ought to publicly extol the virtues of free choice and respect for the individual in the bedroom as passionately as we promote such values in the market and in the voting booth.