Laura Zillman is the vice president of Students Against Sexual Assault.
“It’s just the way it is,” an unnamed GW fraternity member told Alan Schwarz in a recent New York Times article about campus sexual assault. “We buy the alcohol, we serve the alcohol, they drink it. We all have a good time.”
It’s just the way it is.
The article, which features the voices of several other GW students, details the “anti-rape idea” of sororities throwing parties alongside fraternities. Sorority members, Schwarz hypothesizes, would feel safer drinking “on their own turf.”
To be clear, the idea itself is not the troubling part of this article. A person should always be able to make themselves feel safe, especially in a college environment – whether that means choosing not to drink in certain situations, watching out for friends at parties or even using products like “anti-rape” nail polish. If taking particular steps makes someone feel more comfortable, they shouldn’t feel ashamed to do so.
But to blatantly market these steps as “anti-rape” completely misses the point. The reality of the situation is that we can either continue brainstorming a million ways for college students to anticipate and prevent their own assault, or we can actually tackle the roots of the problem – people feeling entitled to commit sexual violence while survivors feel unsupported – with education, training and follow-through.
What would this look like at GW? We could certainly start with Colonial Inauguration, the whirlwind orientation program that incoming freshmen experience each summer. GW needs to emphasize that, when becoming a part of our campus community, students are expected to respect each other at all times. In place of the cringe-inducing CI skit about a female student being raped, small-group discussions about sexual violence and consent could be implemented. It’s been successfully done at Georgetown – what’s stopping GW?
Looking beyond incoming freshmen to the campus community at large, GW should also work to make resources more readily available for anyone affected by sexual violence. Recommending language for course syllabi is an excellent place to start. Even faculty members have a role to play – they need to know how to respond if a student discloses to them.
Every member of the GW community is responsible for making our campus safe and intolerant of sexual violence, from the administration to the brand-new members of the Class of 2019. But it is the University that has the power to make the most important changes. When officials fail to use that power to benefit students, it sends a very troubling message: that everything is fine, just the way it is.