Alcohol, Casual Sex, and Victim-Blaming

Eckerd College is a private college of the liberal arts and sciences. The college currently has 1,850 students on its 188 acres along the water. Around 40% of Eckerd’s students pursue advanced degrees, and it is one of the nation’s leaders in the percentage of graduates that earn doctoral degrees. As of 2012 the school was even listed as one of forty colleges that change lives according to Loren Pope’s well-regarded guide. Doesn’t that all sound pretty ideal? Who wouldn’t like a fairly well-regarded school, with beach access, and a high-likelihood of earning a more advanced degree in the future? Eckerd’s President Donald Eastman III shattered Eckerd’s idyllic image on Monday, when he sent an email out to the student body briefly explaining the college’s new sexual assault education and awareness program and more extensively asking the students to do their part towards ending sexual assaults on campus. Actually, that still doesn’t sound too bad. Education and awareness are necessary steps towards ending rape culture and sexual violence on college campuses, and student involvement is a necessity as the administration can only do so much. So why did I say that Eastman shattered the image of a fairly idyllic sounding college? To understand that, we need to look at how he suggested students assist the administration in their goal of ending sexual assault on campus. President Eastman gave his students two ways he believed they can help end sexual assault on campus, drink less alcohol and refrain from casual sex.Not only that, Eastman went as far as to say that sexual assault is “almost always preceded by consumption, often heavy consumption, of alcohol, often by everyone involved in them”. This statement actually goes against the results of studies on the nature of sexual assaults, which have shown that 44% of sexual assaults in the U.S. involve either body being under the influence of drugs or alcohol; which plainly is not most (or even a majority) of all sexual assaults. Current and former students at Eckerd College were angered by Eastman’s statements, petitioning him to rethink his statements and address what they felt the relevant issues teaching “that having sex with someone who says ‘no’ is not okay”.

Now according to Eastman, “they haven’t told me what you really ought to blame it on”, with they referring to angered students and it referring to sexual assault. Despite that being a false statement, many of his students did give suggestions on what to target in order to fix the prevalent sexual assault on college campuses, it is not just up to the students to tell President Eastman what needs to be addressed in order to put an end to sexual assault. It is up to President Eastman to do his research, and look into what experts and activists suggest the best plans of action are. President Eastman seems to have felt that looking at other suggestions was a waste of time, but likely for him our class has done a good deal of research for him. To start, President Eastman could learn from the model put forth by his counterpart at Dartmouth University, President Philip J. Hanlon. President Hanlon has helped Dartmouth become a leader in bystander intervention programs, the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative has trained hundreds of students in bystander intervention techniques. This past July Dartmouth also hosted the Summit on Sexual Assault in order to strengthen methods to prevent sexual assault and to find better ways of protecting college students. Dartmouth clearly is focusing on prevention of sexual assault, at least partly through bystander intervention. Could bystander intervention be more effective than telling students to drink less and to stop participating in casual sex? Neil Irvin, executive director of Men Can Stop Rape, has yet another suggestion that Eastman could potentially look into. Irvin suggests it is necessary to work with men to create an image of positive and healthy masculinity; acknowledging that most men won’t be rapists, but also beginning to teach males that they can be masculine without being stereotypically violent. Could a male positive approach could be more effective towards preventing sexual assault than Eastman’s approach? The point is there seems to be many more effective approaches towards preventing sexual assault on college campuses (and off), and the two I listed are just the tip of the iceberg.

We know sexual assault is happening on campus, just this semester Vanderbilt students have received notice of three separate assaults taking place. Those are just the assaults that have been reported and filtered on to us. Based off the statistics on the percentage of sexual assault on campus, these are most likely not the only incidents of assault that have taken place this semester. Two out of the three assaults were on Commons, and as a first-year that makes the issue especially alarming for me. As a first-year, am I less safe or are those just where reported incidents happened to have taken place? Is there something about the first-year of college that makes assaults more likely to happen? Is the prevention of sexual assault a feasible goal for the near future? What (and who) will it take to make that goal a reality? Is an overall change in campus culture needed, or could a law passed by Congress lead to that change?

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