If any place should stand against sexual violence, it is a university campus in the United States of America. The U.S. is a country founded on the idea that liberty and dignity are basic human necessities: if any places within our borders should promote this idea, it is the institutions of higher education. Students at MSU have the opportunity to create and engage in the culture that will foster America’s next leaders, and those leaders will shape the generations that follow. This isn’t just a women’s rights issue, or a women’s issue or even an issue reserved for the victims. Sexual assault happens to people from all walks of life and is everyone’s issue. It’s time to sculpt a new campus culture.
From the very start, sexual assault plays a role in every student’s college experience. Young people are told to carry pepper spray, cover their drinks at parties and practice awareness and self-defense in order to prevent rape and sexual assault. They might as well hang a banner that reads, “Welcome to college, if you try really hard and pay close attention you can avoid rape,” as if sexual assault is just something that happens instead of a crime that a criminal actively chooses to commit.
“Today I see rape culture manifest itself in how exceedingly violent and sexist language has become the norm,” freshman Robert Moore said. “One of my professors suggested to the female students they use the university’s escorted walk service to get home safely but failed to mention a need for us to speak out when we hear objectifying and sexist remarks.”
Montana State University requires incoming students to take the Haven and AlcoholEdu courses, and performs skits and plays at orientation that demonstrate the truth about sexual assault. I am thankful that we attend a university that values the safety and wellbeing of the students, and I credit them greatly for that. But the underlying culture still exists, because it is the students who create and perpetuate the culture. It sends the message that young people need to actively protect themselves against assault, and this is a problem because when someone survives an assault, the message that follows is that they failed to defend themselves. This is blatant victim-blaming; a culture that we need to change.
We can be a campus that says “no” to the culture that perpetuates sexims and violence on our campus. We can confront sexist jokes, racist language and vicious stereotypes. We can be a campus that embraces our freedom, encouraging students to go out if they want on the weekend without fear of their fellow bobcats. This is only possible if we take a stand against sexual assault and let the world know that it doesn’t make you cool to take a drunk person to bed, it’s not funny to make homophobic jokes to your friends, and it’s not acceptable to disrespect your fellow human beings in any way. Moore continued, “This is important because its entirely preventable. It’s appalling we as a community, as a nation, and as a world haven’t stepped up and said it’s wrong to treat each other this way.”
We live in a culture filled with rigid, sexist roles in which boys are told to ‘man-up’ and strong-willed little girls are too often considered to be ‘bossy’ instead of future leaders. This dynamic breeds men who are taught to be aggressive and non-empathetic, women who are taught to be submissive and sensitive; meanwhile, the intersectionalities of sex and gender are not addressed at all. This creates a divide where instead there should be a spectrum.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Study in 2007, one in five women on college campuses are victims of completed or attempted sexual assault and one in 16 men will experience this same crime. While there are many cultural factors that play a part in creating rape culture on campuses, it comes down to something very simple: respect, or a lack thereof. We cannot simply hope for a future where all human beings are given the respect and dignity to be who they are. We must go out and actively demand it. And so today, Thursday April 9, 2015, I will march with survivors and the Voice Center as we Take Back the Night and proclaim our refusal to accept sexual violence as a part of our culture. I encourage you to do the same.
This article coincides with Sexual Assault Awareness Month this April, and the Voice Center’s Week of Action. For information about how to get involved and volunteer, head up to the Voice Center office in SUB 370, or call their general office line at 994-7662.