In a room of one hundred, there were seven male students and a dozen older men from the Claremont faculty and community. The Ath event was entitled “We Move as a Group: Uniting the Genders in the Fight Against Rape Culture”. The description seemed to me welcoming and unintimidating, reflecting renowned author Alice Sebold’s intention to “provide hope by working to dismantle the antiquated and destructive divisions that still exist among us and to inspire a more open dialogue.” So why the lack of participation?
Before delving into the disappointment I felt while sitting in a room of almost entirely women listening to Sebold’s beautifully crafted speech on trauma and the changing reality of our culture, I want to first acknowledge and thank everyone who is an ally, advocate, and friend to victims of sexual trauma. To the seven male students in the room, thank you. To the guys I know I can confide in and who I know will listen, thank you. In doing so, I truly do not mean to come off as patronizing. I think I speak for many of the women at the Ath that night who appreciated the compassion in the room from the men who were there. Your empathy did not go unnoticed.
I have come to see sexual harassment and sexual assault as the single worst problem afflicting college campuses today. Our campus is certainly no exception. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, statistically one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted during college. These numbers are startlingly high, and in my experience, accurate… perhaps even an underestimate. This problem exists among people of all sexual orientations and gender identities and it exists both within and outside of committed relationships. Even if we don’t think we are directly contributing to the problem, opting out of conversations crucial to progress may be detrimental to promoting an inclusive and safe campus culture. We can always learn more about being a better ally and a more vigilant and active bystander.
Engaging in conversation and listening is enough to learn something new and vital. We can only change our misguided conceptions about consent by participating in potentially uncomfortable and complex conversations. There is no learning without listening.
The Athenaeum is meant to be a space for students to engage in conversations that may fall outside of our comfort zones. At CMC, we purport to be students who care about cultivating a stronger sense of self and personal agency. At the same time, it saddens me when I see our students shy away from some of these difficult conversations.
Security Pacific dining room was packed to its capacity at moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s March 22 Ath talk about the growing ideological divide in our country caused by people’s unwillingness to hear opinions that challenge their own. The room pulsed in agreement with Haidt’s argument that college is precisely the place for encouraging this type of personal growth, exploring and challenging the opinions of others, and engaging in more difficult dialogues. Sitting at Haidt’s talk, I could feel students’ resolve to be more open to counter-arguments and opposing ideologies. So why did these same students not feel the same resolve to hear Sebold’s testimony and join us in exploring how to unite us all against perpetuating rape culture and sexual trauma? Is it a difficult conversation to start? Yes. Is it perhaps the most important one to spark on a college campus? Also yes.
Unfortunately, this was not the first time I was at an event where I felt disappointed with student turnout for important discussions on sexuality and sexual trauma. The CMC Advocates organized CMC’s first ever “Sex Week” in October, including events such as Ath talks on safe sex practices, CARE center conversations on “Queering Safer Sex,” workshops on BDSM, discussions on sex after trauma, and a comedy show. The events were meant to attract widespread participation by evoking curiosity and highlighting topics that aren’t often openly discussed. While the turnout for CMC’s inaugural Sex Week was exciting and promising, there was still a disproportionate lack of male participation. Still, I have high hopes for the future of CMC Advocates’ Sex Week and their mission to create a more open and inclusive dialogue on campus.
When I speak to my closest guy friends from CMC and from colleges all over the country and ask them where they think this lack of male buy-in originates, a common thread in their answers is the notion that these conversations are geared toward empowering and uniting those who are most affected by the issue. So, because men are statistically less likely to be victims of sexual violence, they shy away from attending these talks with the fear that their presence is not welcome. If you feel this way, I’d like to be the one to let you know that not only are you welcome in these conversations, but you are NEEDED. I believe I speak for many women my age when saying: we welcome you, we want you, and we need you to be a part of this effort.
I encourage CMCers (and all college students and all people) not to settle for simply being a friend and an ally to survivors. While that is extremely important, it is also necessary to actively engage with the broader dialogue about our campus climate. The Ath and the CMC Advocates’ “Sex Week” presented opportunities to listen to others, engage in dialogue, and reflect on personal beliefs and practices, all with the goal of being part of the solution. It’s our responsibility to actively engage in these opportunities. If you previously haven’t felt welcome to fully participate, I hope I can reassure you that you are welcome in these spaces. By simply being there and making it a priority in your life to actively engage in the solution, you will help make our community safer and bring us closer together.
I know that the Claremont community is made up of compassionate, motivated people who take personal and aggregate social responsibility. I know that our students really care about each other, the problems we all face, and the actions we can take toward solutions. My hope is that our community will have these conversations, including and encouraging voices from all identities, and broadening the scope of “trauma” so that we can better understand each other, our struggles and our shared responsibility to do better. Together, I know we can do better CMC.