Toxic Silence: When You Cannot Not Speak Up

8 Sep

This week is “It Ends Now” week on my university campus. It is also the week that one of our students posted on Huffington Post about being sexually assaulted by another student and her belief that the administration of our university utterly failed her. I do not know this student. I do not know her alleged assailant. I cannot and do not purport to speak for my university. I cannot and do not comment on the details of this specific case or the guilt or innocence of anyone involved.

All that said, I cannot not speak up. The silence of so many faculty, students, and administrators around the country is toxic. It is important for those who can, to speak up, to voice their support of the victims in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, and hate crimes. To be advocates for the rights of those who cannot or do not speak for whatever reason. This is not to say that everyone is silent. Students, alumni, a colleague at Conditionally Accepted, and others, have spoken up, and those who speak deserve our respect. It is vital that we not remain silent when others are suffering.

We have a rape culture problem, not only here, on my campus, but at many, many campuses nationwide. We have a rape culture problem that impacts not only college campuses, but high schools, junior high schools, workplaces, and public spaces across the United States. We have a rape culture problem that pervades our popular culture–television, movies, books, and videogames.

In all these places and in many ways, we tell ourselves that victims are “asking for it,” because they are drinking, because they dress “provocatively,” because they are “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” or because they “changed their mind.” We tell ourselves that our student athletes, our celebrities, our authority figures know better than their victims and somehow “deserve” to be able to commit the acts they do–or, at least, that they don’t “deserve” to be punished for them.

Let’s be honest. Most of the time, the perpetrators are (usually white) male, usually straight, often affluent. They come from families who have given them many opportunities and taught them that they can have anything they want (which they decide includes whomever they want). And then, when they commit an act of violence against another human being, we excuse them–“boys will be boys,” “so-and-so was asking for it,” and so on.

We have to stop. We have to stop justifying acts of violence and excusing sexual assault as something that just happens. It should not be commonplace for women to tell stories about their sexual assaults, on or off college campuses. It should not ever be excusable to violate another person’s physical space with aggression or sexual contact, whether that person is male, female, or non-binary.

I cannot speak directly to this particular case, or for the university, but I can speak for myself. If you are a friend or have been a student of mine and I have ever made you feel as though you were at fault for something which happened to you, then I am deeply sorry. I will try every day to make my office, my classroom, and any space I am in a safe place for you. I will do my best to discourage rape culture, intolerance, and bigotry in my classroom and my community. Even if I can only speak for myself, I will speak.

Rape culture and sexual violence are unacceptable. Bigotry is unacceptable. #NotInMyClassroom