The Silent No: On the college sexual assault pandemic

The internet was taken by storm last week by news of an unsanctioned fraternity party at Texas Tech that displayed horrifically crude decorations that promoted sexual violence and misogyny. The Phi Delta Theta fraternity came under fire for hosting a hurricane theme party on September 19th that featured a sprinkler disguised in the shape of a vagina, which operated throughout the night “spraying” those passing by. Deciding that such objectification of women was not distasteful enough for their standards, they decided to display a banner – their pièce de résistance – which bore the message in blood red paint “No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal”. Parodying the mantra of the pro-consent movement “No Means No, Only Yes Means Yes”, this elegant centerpiece highlights the casual attitude that certain sub-cultures of colleges take towards sexual violence. While it is n-NO-MEANS-YES-large570somewhat satisfying to hear that the fraternity was disbanded and members were mandated to undergo sexual assault prevention and bystander behavior education, it is alarming that this incident is symptomatic of a greater problem that exists in colleges. The Washington Post reports that more than 70 colleges and universities are under investigation after accusations of improperly handling sexual assault cases. Sexual violence committed by fraternities map on to the overall trends that we see in this issue. Women are not the only victims and survivors of violence—all genders suffer at the receiving end of cruel and inhuman treatment. For instance, a male Penn State student committed suicide this March after being hazed by members of Phi Sigma Kappa. His parents found messages explaining that pledges had to choose between penetrating themselves with a sex toy and snorting cocaine. Two studies conducted in 2007 and 2009 by NASPA, the professional group for student affairs administrators in higher education, found that fraternity members were three times as likely to commit rape as the average college student. The natural response to many of these charges has been to ban Greek life. Many protest this move on several grounds; not all chapters or members are guilty—the Greek system has tangible benefits to its members and universities, and that ban would simply displace problematic activity to the unregulated periphery. Despite the truth in some of these claims, the mounting evidence indicates that more must be done to correct the utter disregard for human life that prevails in certain aspects of Greek life.

Many of you may read this and breathe a sigh of relief as we do not have Greek life at Clark. However, it is wrong to consider sexual assault as something endemic to only fraternities and sororities. Sexual violence exists in any college, and Clark is no exception. Many of us see the liberal, inclusive and informed environment of our campus and assume that we as a college are above such barbarism, but prevalence statistics indicate that Clark students experience their fair share of violence. It is not some distant threat, it is real. It is unknown because we as a culture silence survivors, stifle discussion and choose to look the other way. While at a training on sexual assault prevention, I was struck by one particular concept that (regrettably) commonplace incidents (like heckling and sexist jokes) if allowed to slide unchecked, precipitate a culture that normalizes sexual violence. Many of us (myself included) have qualms regarding involvement in what we consider to be an intensely private realm – sexual and romantic relationships. Even more troubling is having to delve into the gray area of implied sexism and inappropriate comments. That conundrum of “Is it a joke, or something more serious? Am I the person to speak up?” plagues us all. While these concerns are normal and human, we must learn to overcome them and be proactive in the defense of those suffering in silence. In celebration of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, let us move towards a society that does not prey upon its own. You want to know the significance of our somewhat obscure motto? It has meaning in times like this, guiding us to challenge these archaic, deeply rooted norms and make a change for the better.

– Themal Ellawala

Sources: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/oct/12/colleges-fraternities-under-fire-for-hazing-deaths/#ixzz3G5PgnvnH ; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/08/texas-tech-frat-no-means-yes_n_5953302.html

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