Columns

Secondo ’16: Taking steps forward

By
Opinions Columnist
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

When in the course of human events does it become necessary for one people to dissolve the bands that connect them to a corrupt culture? The Founding Fathers listed many grievances in the Declaration of Independence that they believed warranted separating the colonies from Great Britain. How many more incidents and crimes of sexual violence must occur before they serve as a sufficient reason for Brown undergraduates to disentangle ourselves from rape culture and no longer be “deaf to the voice of justice” as the Founders felt the English government was to the colonies?

The criminals who perpetrate sexual violence are the principal gatekeepers of this culture. They protect and foster a culture of perverse behavior directly in our midst. Some will eventually be exposed and properly punished; many will not.

As President Christina Paxson P’19 articulated in a campus-wide email last week, we as members of the Brown community need to systematically rid ourselves of the bands that indirectly connect us to this culture. I commend the University’s dramatically improved transparency in providing information in a timely matter, as well as its revisions to sexual assault policies on the investigative process and ultimate decisions reached for each case. These policy improvements are supplemented with new resources for victims of sexual assault, the accused and community members, including flowcharts for various case scenarios and clearly outlined lists of the parties’ rights and responsibilities. These changes are promising steps toward making the investigation and procedural models less traumatizing and more supportive for all involved parties.

But these changes do not clip away the bands that keep parasitic rape culture attached to us. One cannot cure a disease by only addressing the symptoms. Sexual violence cannot be eliminated or fully prevented by focusing solely on its association with alcohol abuse. Nonetheless, the University has implemented a campus-wide ban on parties with alcohol service in residence halls, as well as sanctions against two fraternities that had reported sexual misconduct incidents at their unregistered parties with alcohol service in October.

The new regulations on alcohol attack Brown’s drinking culture more than the real enemy of sexual violence. Yes, excessive alcohol consumption and irresponsible drinking behavior often play a role in creating unsafe environments, including situations that lead to sexual misconduct. But this blanket ban is a harsh way of trying to treat the symptoms without touching the more substantial roots of this issue. It is a nanny-state decision that belittles students’ rights of personal responsibility and agency. How can students be expected to engage in socially responsible behavior and respectful sexual interactions if they cannot be trusted to have healthy relationships with alcohol?

Reactionary measures in the face of external pressure and internal siege never work. This policy may have already caused a recent increased volume of drinking and partying off Brown property. Additionally, underage drinkers may already be pregaming harder and faster, given their now-limited access to alcohol at on-campus parties and their paranoia of potential backlashes if caught drinking in dorms.

By indirectly pushing parties off campus, the University is also pushing the threat of potential sexual violence away from its immediate jurisdiction. Underground drinking and the pressure to party off campus will not stop the same culpable culture that plagues the community. How do the University and the Department of Public Safety plan on monitoring and policing crimes across a myriad of neighborhoods and private dwellings beyond their control better than handling current on-campus incidents? Targeting alcohol as the primary component of the mechanisms behind sexual assault distracts and detracts from the real issue at hand: We need an en masse attitude adjustment.

Almost 25 years after the Rape List in the Rockefeller Library, Brown is still grappling with the same issues of sexual violence that transcend the time, people or policies in place. To uproot this culture, we must adopt a new outlook that refuses to accept the status quo. It is our ethical responsibility to actively reject the cultural standards that make the presence and continuation of sexual violence a normal social occurrence. The University’s new mandatory training measures for community members are a step in the right direction. But beyond this initiative, we need to start acknowledging the ugly realities and believe we can do something about them.

First, we all can suppress the bystander effect by remaining mindful of our surroundings and stepping up to the plate when we see something bad brewing. If you see something, say and do something. This strange inclination of people to retreat from aiding their fellow humans is baffling, especially in a community built on mutual respect and a desire to improve the world.

Has biologically hardwired altruism become mysteriously pacified by some social mutation? Or whatever happened to simply being a good neighbor? As stated in the Principles of the Brown University Community, an individual’s personal integrity is “reflected not only in honest and responsible actions but also in a willingness to offer direction to others whose actions may be harmful to themselves or the community.” We can easily walk our peers in need home, help support friends and inform individuals of the resources the University offers to protect its students. I understand the desire to hide from confrontation or further personal involvement, but actively intervening or reporting an incident to the proper authority is noble not shameful. We need more moral people to make up for the cowards and culprits that taint our existence.

Second, we all need to hold ourselves accountable for not engaging in the current cultural norms on sexual objectification and violence. Whether cracking a joke or making an off-color comment, using the language and connotations of sexual violence in daily conversation neutralizes the gravity of the topic and contributes to normalizing its presence. By being more aware of the words we utter, we become more aware of what they truly represent. Hyper-sexualized imagery and bodily objectification is everywhere in the media and reflects our society’s fixation with body image. By understanding these distorted psychological perspectives of the human figure, we are able to reclaim the body as a living vessel, not a vehicle for sex.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but these do-it-yourself measures are common sense and will organically put the community on the right track to eradicating the disease from within. Rather than just the administration and student activists trying to bring about change, we must all be equally instrumental in effecting cultural change.

To continue the conversation, free feel to reach Secondo ’16 at reid_secondo@brown.edu.

  • TheRationale

    This article is mind-bogglingly off the mark. Talk about drinking the Kool-Aid.

    Actual reasons why things are bad:

    1. The administrations wants to play judge, jury, and executioner. Since when the hell have “internal” justice systems worked? At Penn State? At the Vatican? At the other 80+ schools on the Fed’s list? The conflicts of interest are gigantic, and the administrations are completely unqualified to hold such hearings. 28 Harvard law professors issued a statement saying how completely f’d up this whole idea is.

    2. The outcomes from sexual assault hearings on campuses so far are abysmal. One of two things happens. The defendant is guilty, but the university decides that a one-year suspension is appropriate, which robs the victim (and community) of safety and justice. Or the defendant is innocent, but the University convicts them anyway and ruins their life.

    3. “Rape culture” is no more a thing than “murder culture.” Literally every argument used to justify the existence of “rape culture” can be made to justify the existence of “murder culture,” but we all know there’s no such thing. It’s the emperor’s new clothes. It does nothing to address the issue and only alienates level-headed people. It’s propagandistic nonsense that either gets people arguing about its very existence or going down wild goose chases hunting some ill-defined boogeyman.

    4. The definitions of rape and sexual assault on campus have become so diluted so as to become meaningless. As the grey zone widens, people become more and more skeptical and dismissive of accusations, with the neglect of actual victims even worse than before. Situation exacerbated by #5.

    5. The loudest voices on these issues are radicals who cannot be reasoned with. They alienate people by calling everyone else a rape apologist. It’s the new McCarthyism.

    6. In the real world, people go to the police. This entire college-run solution to criminal activity has no parallel elsewhere. Just imagine Walmart holding sexual assault tribunals.

    Basically the current approach to fixing the problem is completely ass-backwards.