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Let’s talk about it
An effort to end rape culture on college campuses
Companies across the country are promising to put an end to sexual assault on college campuses.
Organizations such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the mass media company Viacom have signed President Obama’s “It’s On Us” pledge, along with 51 other corporations.
“I pledge: to recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault,” the “It’s On US” pledge states on its website. “I pledge: to identify situations in which sexual assault may occur. I pledge: to intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given. I pledge: to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.”
The “It’s On Us” is a campaign launched by the federal government to tackle the problem of sexual assault on college campuses. It is on everyone to fight campus sexual assault, President Obama said in a press conference this past September.
It is an issue that plagues college campuses all across the United States but many assaults go unreported so it is difficult to get a complete count of how often sexual assault happens, according to a CNN report published in September.
“Historically, [Quinnipiac] has not had a very open and robust conversation around sexual assault and rape on this campus,” Associate Professor of Anthropology Hillary Haldane said.
She has taught classes on cross-cultural perspectives on gender, sex, sexuality and the anthropology of gender-based violence.
Haldane studies how different cultures think about violence against women and how different cultures respond to what they see as violence against women. Haldane poses the question: at Quinnipiac, how does the university define campus sexual assault as a problem and then how does the community respond to it?
“I think Quinnipiac, like most universities, has wanted to just sweep it under the rug,” Haldane said. “Have you ever gone into a [women’s] bathroom on campus and seen a poster that tells you who you can call if you’ve been assaulted? Or go into a men’s bathroom and is there a poster about either if you’ve been assaulted or posters saying like, ‘hey, friends don’t let friends do this?’”
Haldane does expect a positive change within the next couple of years.
“I think there’s goodwill on the part of Student Affairs and faculty and students,” Haldane said.
The “It’s On Us” pledge is a personal commitment to not be a bystander to the problem but to be part of the solution.
“Students want this out in the open,” Haldane said.
Quinnipiac was nationally recognized as the safest campus by University Primetime earlier this year, but sexual assault still happens here. The university reported four sexual assaults on campus in 2013.
“Information is power,” Haldane said. “I think that it is important to kind of acknowledge that it is a problem on our college campus, as it is on many campuses. Give students the opportunity to want to change it.”
However, it is important to protect the rights of the victim and the rights of the accused until he or she is proven guilty, Haldane said.
“Students should feel comfortable enough to report it, even though this is something that cannot easily be proven, because it is a big deal,” freshman physical therapy major Sam Speziale said.
There is a cycle that exists when people think about sexual assault, Haldane said. If a woman is sexually assaulted, people think it is her fault because of how she dresses, then, the victim herself thinks it’s her fault, Haldane said. But rape happens cross-culturally, in villages where women wear woven skirts and in countries where women wear burkas.
“The way to prevent rape is to not think about the way women dress,” Haldane said. “The way to prevent rape is get the rapists to stop raping.”
A 20-page report was released by the Obama Administration in April 2014 that describes the four most pressing ways to end sexual assault on college campuses: identify the problem on campuses; engage men in preventative measures; effectively respond to assault where it’s reported; and make sure the public is aware of the federal government’s efforts to combat these issues on a broader scale.
Haldane is hopeful that Quinnipiac will start engaging with young men and women and say what can be done to stop this from happening.
“We will move away from this victim blaming type of approach to more of holding people accountable,” Haldane said. “To be kind to one another, to not violate people.”
Haldane believes hiding the problem doesn’t solve it.
“I think if you keep it hidden you’re not empowering your students to be agents of change,” Haldane said. “We’re not empowering the students who don’t want rape on their campus to have an avenue for that change when you don’t have a dialogue for it.”