As I reflected back on the experience I had in this class and all the new, enlightening information that I learned, it became clear that our last months focus on sexual assault really hit home with me. Its weird however, as I or no one I know has ever been sexually assaulted. What drew me close was the act that I had no knowledge at all on the subject and no idea of some of the things I was oblivious to while being at Vanderbilt. Now that Ive taken this class, I believe everyone should have some type of education when it comes to sex and it makes us all do in society. That being said, the TIMES magazine articles that we read about real people and their stories or opinions was the most specific aspect of our chapter on sexual assault that will stay with me the longest.
To begin with, many of the concepts talked about in the articles by TIME magazine were topics that I could personally relate to on a deeper level than some of the other ways the information was presented. The articles focused solely on college campuses which allowed me to think of the time Ive spent at Vanderbilt. Also, topics such as fraternities, which is a very big deal at a school like Vanderbilt, and athletics, because I play tennis for Vanderbilt were even more of a reason that I was drawn to the information. Articles were written about how schools will do anything in their power to deny the fact that it has a sexual assault problem. If an athlete commits a sexual crime, than the school’s athletic program is to blame because the athletic program has a sexual assault problem, not the school. If a frat member rapes a girl, the fraternity system has a problem and thus sanctions thrown at only that fraternity occurs. Other articles talked about different radical ideas such as shutting down fraternities, double standards, and just personal sexual assault experiences to spread the word about an ongoing problem that many people are unaware of. These articles shed light on people in high positions looking out for themselves and not the betterment of the community at large.
Wrapping things up and reflecting back on the first day of class, I can say with complete honesty that my expectations of the course were completely different than the reality. In this case, I was pleasantly surprised and learned more about our culture that we live in as college students and also human nature when it comes to sexual urges. At the end of the day, experiences are what matter most.
Upon being asked the question of what the most important and influential concept to understanding the relationship between sex and society covered in this semester, I began to think about all the different concepts talked and read about in class. When thinking about everything, I began to see connections between different terms that came up throughout the semester that were discussed that I had never seen before. The concepts are all fairly different, yet are all still related in some ways because of the manner that society has been formed over the years. Agents of socialization, sex education, social constructions, and heteronormativity have all become interconnected, creating an environment of hostility towards people who do not identify as heterosexual.
The agents of socialization people are exposed to impact their views on everything in life. However, their views on sex are affected more so than some other aspects of life are. The socialization of sex and sex education has a more prevalent impact on how a person forms their ideas and views on sex. The environment a person was raised in, their religion, schooling experience, family, friends, and the media all heavily influence the formation of what sex means and should mean to a person. But, this can be dangerous- with the amount of societal constructions (such as what “good” or “normal” sex is, gender, etc.) that exist today, it is easy for the manner in which a person was socialized to negatively affect their views on sex or gender. For example, many religions do not condone homosexuality, so if someone is raised in that environment, it is likely they would judge and discriminate anyone who is homosexual.
SInce gender is a social construction, it easy to stereotype and discriminate against those who do not fit into the gender binaries that exist today (boy and girl). So, those who appear as lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, or transgender are easily stereotypes and judged. The heteronormative ideals that are held by the majority of the people in this country also lead to stigmas and discrimination. When people who have other sexual orientations other than heterosexual, they are often mistreated by society and can even be susceptible to violence, sexual violence in particular (as seen in the video of the transgender man who used the bathroom of a New York McDonald and was beat for it by the manager, yet was charged for a misdemeanor when in actuality he was the victim ).
Over the years, this problem has perpetuated. It has become easier for discrimination and violence to occur without any repercussion on the perpetrator. The connections between these terms and these societal constructions and manifestations all lend to why society is as it is today and why people discriminate, act violently toward, and outcast nonheterosexual people. Having a good understanding of all these terms allows for a person too see the interconnectedness and understand why these horrible things occur. It allows for people to be aware of the problem and not lend to it or be an enabler.
There seems to be a discrepancy in the way people interpret the word “feminist.” There’s the more formal definition that scholars accept such as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” On the contrary there’s a social definition that everyday people use to interpret feminist: “A Nazi group of females who essentially hate the male species, don’t have sex, and want females to dominate everything in life.” Despite the variety individuals interpretations, everyone can agree that all feminist are fighting for equal gender rights and opportunity.
It’s no secret that sexual assault and violence on college campuses has recently become very prevalent in media and the minds of students and faculty across college campuses, as well as in the minds of the government; multiple stories and different accounts of sexual assault and rape have been in the the news, forcing attention to be drawn to this issue and for it to be addressed. Recent studies in sexual assault on college campuses across the United States reveal that one in five women report being assaulted on college campuses, which is terrifying considering in the past, cases of this have never been properly reported or given attention. Students and victims of sexual assault have begun to cry out also, bringing attention to this issue. Some of their accounts can be read in newspapers or seen on the news, as the sexual assault that took place on our very own campus here was. Time magazine even devoted an entire issue due to this problem; in this issue, multiple politicians, activists, scholars, authors, lawyers and victims shared their voice and opinions on sexual assault on college campuses and how it should be taken care of.
Two of the articles in this issue that stood out to me the most include an article called “‘My Rapist Is Still on Campus’” written by Emma Sulkowicz, a victim of rape and junior from Columbia College, and an article written by Jonathan Kalin, a student activist who formed a movement for consent called “Consent Must Be Created, Not Given.” In Sulkowicz’s article, she tells of how she was raped the very first day of her sophomore year, and she is near the end of her college life yet her rapist is still free and on campus and will graduate with her. Not only did her rapist commit an act of sexual assault on her, but also on two other girls. Sulkowicz would wake up everyday afraid to leave her room for the fear of her rapist; in the future when she looks back on her experience at Columbia, it will be defined by this. it will be defined by how she received no help from the university when she asked for it and how she will have to life with this injustice for her entire life. When Sulkowicz did reach out to the school for help, administration and the campus justice system dismissed her case and the accounts of what had happened to her.
Situations similar to Sulkowicz’s happen way too often, and are the reason for all of the recent backlash that Universities are facing today; in fact, 55 universities are under investigation by the federal government for lacking in dealing with sexual assault cases on campus properly. Many universities figure that they can brush these cases under the rug for fear of losing prestige and credibility. This may have worked in the past, however, rape on college campuses has become so prevalent, and on some campuses more so than others, that it can no longer be ignored. In recent years, rape culture has been perpetuated due to the media, sexist mentalities, and a sense of apathy from society. Relationships displayed in movies, TV shows, and music’s lyrics lend to the idea of rape and make power based violence seem acceptable in certain situations. Whether people or conscious of it or not, these images and messages are received by people and can contribute to their mentality and beliefs on sexual assault, swaying them to become more accepting, or even apathetic.
In Kalin’s article, he speaks of his movement to recreate the definition of consent and educating people about sexual violence in hopes of preventing it. He asserts that societal norms and the expectation of what college life should be like have created an environment where sexual assault is way too prevalent always featuring repeatedly shamed survivors of assault and perpetrators who plead the crime as one of “misunderstanding.” Although the government has recently stepped in in trying to help prevention, Kalin believes it will take a lot more than just this to change the culture associated with this; in order for it to change, the definition of consent must be considered and changed. Consent is not a silent practice as it appears in many movies and TV shows. It is something that must be verbalized and discussed to ensure that there are no misunderstandings and the participants are on the same page. If consent is an assumed silent thing, then there will obviously be multiple misunderstanding and can lend to the amount of sexual assault that occur on college campuses. Kalin also asserts that consent should not be made out to be a commodity, therefore people should no longer say that consent was “given” or “got,” but rather that is was created. If consent is created, then it should be backed by full understanding on both parties involved.
The recent strides made by the government and other activist organizations have helped the this cause immensely. College campuses have created outlets and resources to aid student victims and give them an outlet for support. Organizations such as Project Safe, Green Dot, and the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center all on Vanderbilt’s campus all strive to do this. Legislation has urged and pushed for bills to be written and rewritten to aid in preventing and solving the issue of sexual assault and violence on college campuses. Today, activists are still urging people to take notice of the issue at hand and hope to cease the perpetuation of rape culture on college campuses across the culture. In order for this to happen, college students need to be well informed and educated on the issue, knowing exactly what constitutes as sexual violence.
How could Vanderbilt do a better job of educating its students on sexual assault? Should informing students on sexual assault and violence be required by all universities? How effective do you really think the programs are on Vanderbilt’s campus at aiding in the prevention of sexual assault on campus?
As my group and I started our final project on sexual assaults on campus, I started to think to myself that the people who have no care or urge to help the ongoing problems are probably the ones engaging in them. I started thinking that gathering all the data and information about what is happening at Vanderbilt is great and all but what is it doing directly to bring change? We know how many assaults are happen per year, who it usually happens to, where they usually occur, between what times they occur most frequently, and what is involved in the scenario such as drugs or alcohol. With this knowledge it would seem like solving the issues would be a piece of cake. This could not be further from the truth.
To start, as our results showed, most sexual assaults occur in dorm rooms between the times of 8pm and 3am. What should be done to counteract this? A couple ideas come to mind but don’t seem like they are plausible. First thing the school could do is after freshman year, make living off campus a priority instead of the other way around. The school makes way too much money on students living in dorms for four years in a row that it seems that they would never make the switch to an off campus based approach. Having students more spread out and not so close to each other could potentially slow down the assaults. If going back to your apartment makes it easier to escape some of the people at school than why should the administration tell you that this isn’t allowed? Think about it: a fraternity is having an on campus party and everyone is really drunk. Someone you know is being really creepy with you and you feel uncomfortable. Instead of going back to the same dorm in which this person lives, you call a taxi and go to an apartment complex with people from the real world and not just fellow students. As the statistics show, stranger danger is a myth and most sexual assaults occur from people who are known to you.
Next, if we know that alcohol is a contributing factor to sexual assaults why are limits and sanctions not being made? College students are at a very awkward age in which they feel as if drinking is the only way to have fun and come out of ones shell. Its either get really drunk and be ridiculous or don’t go out at all because there is no point. If this mentality won’t change, then alcohol all together should be what needs to be limited. The problem with this is that the school would never ban alcohol on campus because Vanderbilt would be far less attractive to many incoming huh school students who want to party and receive a great education for four years. Fraternities will never take alcohol away from their own parties because they think getting drunk is cool and taking it away would limit the frats reputation as being fun. Thus, the attractive and cooler girls would never show up to their parties.
Lastly, if we know that woman are far more likely to be sexually assaulted than men, why aren’t there more ways in which the school offers protection for them. As we all know, men tend to be bigger in stature than women and usually a bit stronger. Would there be a problem offering self-defense classes, mandatory check-ins with friends, or always having someone with you at all times while out? For men, why aren’t there more educational classes, seminars, or groups that talk about sexual assault and what counts as consent and what does not. The lines are not so black and white as we would all like it to be. When it comes to consent there are ton of grey areas in which people who study and work to try to protect people from assault do not have a complete grasp on.
With all the studies, information available, and resources that give us knowledge on how to protect the people at this school, I believe the leaders and people in charge are blinded by the money flowing through their bank accounts that they lose sight of the real issues and problems at hand. They have everything they need to fix the problems, but would rather add another zero to the end of their salary. We know letting people live off campus would be detrimental to the total income of the school, but at least use some of that money to hire better security officers or people who have safety as the number one priority. We know banning alcohol is very unlikely to happen at a University such as Vanderbilt, but have bans on the amount, type, and who receives it. We know woman are assaulted a much higher rate than men but no measures are set to specifically help them.
With this all being said, I believe strides have been taken to make Vanderbilt safer. But is it enough?
Since that fateful elevator ride on February 15, 2014, Janay Rice has been at the center of a national discussion about domestic violence and, more specifically, how high profile cases are dealt with. I will provide a quick history of her and now husband (fiance at the time of the incident) Ray Rice’s assault case. Both Rice and Palmer were charged with domestic violence after a video was released of Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of an Atlantic City elevator (2/15/14). The Baltimore Ravens tweeted that the charges were “serious”. Rice was indicted on charges of third degree aggravated assault (3/27/14). Rice and Palmer marry (3/28/14). Rice is suspended for the first two games of the 2014 NFL season (7/25/14). Additional footage released by TMZ shows Rice punching Palmer (9/8/14). This footage may or may not have been available to the NFL the entire time. The Baltimore Ravens release Rice from his contract and he is suspended from the NFL. Rice wins an appeal and is eligible to sign with any NFL team (11/28/14). The suspension and reinstatement through a technicality could be the subject of an entire post itself, but one of the often overlooked components of this case is the apology that Janay Rice had to give.
Many large universities dismiss rape in order to keep their reputations up. This is exactly what UVA did when it came to reporting their rape cases. A few years back, a girl
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UNITE Magazine was launched in March of 2013 as the first magazine to cater to LGBTQI+ community in Nashville. This magazine is a bi-monthly publication that offers the best in arts, music, dining, travel, fitness, and more. This month’s issue pictured LBGT activist, Margaret Ellis, and featured stories and upcoming events catering to the LGBT group specifically. The magazine was created and published by Joey Amato, whom we had the pleasure of talking to and learning more about the publication from.
Green Dots is an organization on the Vanderbilt University campus that addresses and supports victims of personal violence and why personal violence situations occur. Green Dots are individual choices that meet in a shared vision trying to create a social movement. It is a person’s choice to save or prevent someone from being in a dangerous situation. The organization symbolizes moments where someone can help a person in potential danger and prevent a dangerous situation by going through the training and identifying the signs. These green dots will increase the safety of everyone on campus and in the community and believing in Green Dots could end the perpetration of violence. Through education, outreach, and staff development we can create more green dots around the community to help more people avoid sexual assault. At Vanderbilt, the organization aspires to integrate in all aspects of campus life, increase faculty and staff support, serve diverse populations, and implement the best practices to enhance programmatic efforts. They truly want to make a difference in people’s lives.
Green Dots even includes the athletic department in their goal of educating the entire campus about how to avoid personal violence and what the signs look like. A majority of the athletic teams went through the training. It was a great way to learn about the signs of a potentially dangerous person and situation. For example, the trainer from Green Dots explained what steps a guy at a party might make to persuade a girl to go home with him for a sexual interaction. Some signs include; buying the girl drinks, encouraging her to drink a lot, complimenting her, engaging in a conversation so it seems like he is very interested in what she is saying, various physical interactions, and finally taking her home. The instructor also gave a booklet about documenting personal experiences. This was a way to reflect and grow from various experiences. We also learned about stories of young women who were victims of personal violence. Going through this training was more than beneficial because it helped to realize how important it is to protect each other when people are drinking or going out. Being sexually assaulted can happen to anyone, so being aware of the people around you is essential.
Sexual assault has fallen by more than 50% in recent years. Had the 1993 rate held steady, 9.7 million Americans would have been assaulted in the last 20 years. Due to the drastic decline over the last 20 years, the actual number of victims was only 4.2 million people. The decline of these numbers is heavily due to the rising awareness of sexual assault across the nation. To put things into perspective, here are some statistics about sexual abuse: every two minutes, another American is sexually assaulted. And each year, there are about 237,868 victims of sexual assault. Organizations, like Green Dot, are working towards ceasing this phenomenon and ending sexual assault. Green Dot parallels many of the ideologies and concepts we’ve discussed in class. Although sexual abuse is a new concept to our classroom discussions, it is not a new occurrence in everyday life. Green Dot isn’t the only organization addressing and supporting victims of personal violence. Lately there has been a huge push against sexual assault on college campuses, and we have read many articles focusing on bystander intervention and the emphasis on the victim never being at fault. A huge problem in today’s society is that many times blame will get put on the victim. “She was asking for it” or “she wasn’t that drunk” or “oh, she was flirting the whole night…” are common excuses we hear after sexual assault takes place. Society continues to misplace blame and shame on survivors, both men and women, on college campuses and everywhere else. Many famous people have been working to end this stigma that often get placed onto a victim. Marisa Hargitay, Law and Order SVU star, is a huge advocate for survivors of abuse—working to make sure they receive the justice they deserve. Many other organizations have been working to promote bystander intervention. Philip J. Hanlon, the president of Dartmouth, has also been working heavily on informing his students of the important of intervening when deemed necessary. Hargitay and Hanlon are just two examples of people that are working towards stopping sexual assault.
Another concept we discussed in class is the difference between consent and coercion. Consent is when someone agrees, gives permission, or blatantly says yes to engaging in sexual activity with someone else. Central to the concept of consent is the understanding that every person has a right to control his or her body. Unless clear permission is given, no one else has the right to engage in any sort of activity with another person. Consent is not body language, assumptions, being drunk, marriage or even coercion. Coercion is a tactic that perpetrators use to exert power and control over another person. Coercion typically occurs when a person intimidates or manipulates someone into engaging in sexual activity without the use of physical force. Green Dot is working to ensure consent is given before someone goes off with someone else. It is all about bystander intervention. Green Dot promotes the idea that it is the job of outsiders observing situations to intervene if they feel they must. No one should feel like they can’t step into a situation that just doesn’t seem right.
Understanding what Green Dots can truly change your life. You gain a better understanding of how to protect yourself and others, as well as preventing a potentially dangerous situation. If you would like to learn more, you can visit their website at: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/greendot/ or email email@example.com. It is partnered with Project Safe so you can also contact Cara Tuttle Bell, Director of the Project Safe Center, at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
By Amanda Lockwood, Kayla Peterson, Liam Sabino