AC Voice

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Humanizing the Other Side of Sexual Respect

(Craig Campbell)– Think back to your Freshman Orientation. Recall the lectures that were designed to imbue you with enthusiasm for the four years ahead of you at Amherst. How many times did you hear the phrases “celebrate diversity,” “cross boundaries,” and “conduct meaningful dialogue”? Like any cliché (or Warhol print), if presented enough times, these statements become trite and fail to make an impression on us.

In the wake of the recent uproar over Amherst College’s sexual misconduct policy, I urge readers to recall what those speakers really meant by “opening a meaningful dialogue.” By definition, a dialogue has two sides; likewise, any constructive conversation respects, considers, and synthesizes plural perspectives.

As a student body, we were appropriately outraged by Angie’s harrowing account of the College’s failure to treat her with dignity. We were appropriately outraged by Dana’s report on the previously ignored issue of the TD t-shirt. And we, the student body of Amherst College, should be appropriately excited that their stories are garnering national attention in articles on the likes of Huffington Post and Salon.

But, if our Amherst education teaches us one thing, it should be to remain critical of what we read. The testimonial of a survivor and the report of a fraternity t-shirt are two separate issues that call for fury, which as a student body we’ve provided, and serious attention, which the administration is currently addressing. But the media has conflated those two accounts, creating one image of a rape-apologetic, victim-abusing, misogynistic-at-its-core college – an institution whose Jezebel headline simply reads “RAPE RAPE.” The sentiment is noble, of course – these outlets are helping to effect change that is deeply needed. But it is all too easy to get swept up in the viral enthusiasm and become part of a mob blindly demanding action: Kony 2012 and the Arab Spring should remind us to be wary of finger pointing and immediately assigning blame.

I am proud of Amherst College. In four days, our student body and our campus leaders have demonstrated that we have the capacity to make change happen. We have demonstrated through our protests, petitions, articles, vigils, and Facebook statuses that we earnestly want to see an end to the culture of silence at this school. But rape and rape culture is not endemic to Amherst College – it is an insidious problem faced by universities across the country – and I believe that we can reframe the events of the past week to show that we can set a positive example in the discourse of sexual respect.

Anything that you read on AC Voice, or in the editorial section of The Student, is an opinion editorial, and we need to remember to regard them as such. When I read Angie’s story, I was mortified and deeply saddened. But I was also sickened by some of the responses in the comment section. Many commenters from across the nation poured out love and support for her. Many others, though, fought with one another in increasingly violent language over the veracity of her claims. As an op-ed, the “truth value” of the minutia is irrelevant: we must open our hearts in sympathy to her heartbreaking experience, and we must search for ways to prevent her experience from happening to anyone ever again. She voiced frustration over the combination of actions taken by the misguided official policy of the administration, the legally required actions taken by the counseling center, and the insensitive reactions of Amherst students – all of these disparate entities have contributed to the “rusty taste of shame” that we’ve now united to protest.

But, many commenters of Angie’s piece became fixated with denouncing her “detractors.” For every one comment that expressed – sometimes insultingly and other times apologetically – an alternate opinion on the ongoing conversation of sexual respect, dozens of others responded aggressively with scorn and disgust. I read comments that demanded the name and address of Angie’s rapist, explicitly stating the desire to smear his reputation in response to the pain inflicted on her. I read comments that wished for his penis to be churned in a blender. I read comments angrily urging readers to “teach men not to rape,” indicting the entirety of the male gender for the actions of a limited number of rapists. Do those comments deserve amnesty because they are generally supportive of survivors’ rights? Can one articulate a critique of those kinds of statements, or offer an alternative view of the situation, without being immediately discounted and labeled a victim-blaming rape apologist?

The school’s policies that stood in the way of justice for Angie have been in place since before President Martin’s administration, before even the administration of Tony Marx and Dean Allen Hart, back to the years that Amherst was an all-male institution. As we’ve clearly seen, these policies are archaic and no longer appropriate, and the disciplinary procedure is in the process of being amended. So I urge students, in their scathing condemnation of the administration and its policies, to remember that these are real people. All too often and all too easily we demonize “the Government” or “the System,” ultimately waging war against “the Man.” In the past week, I fear that we have done the same thing to “the Administration.” At this school, Biddy Martin is “the Man.” The administration is a collection of actual individuals. They have names. You’ve probably met some of them. The members of the administration who make decisions regarding student affairs are Carolyn Martin, Charri Boykin-East, Patricia O’Hara, Torin Moore, Carolyn Bassett, Denise McGoldrick, and Liza Nascembeni. President Martin has made it clear that she desires change in the school’s policy regarding sexual respect. I worry that students forget that her administration had been making efforts, before Dana’s and Angie’s articles, to be in better accordance with gender equality on college campuses as specified by Title IX.

Keep in mind that the members of TD, now finally facing the consequences of their mistake, are our peers at this school. You probably have class with one of them. Amid all the vitriol, our outrage with these people – whether fraternity members, alleged assailants, or administrators – is being heard by these individuals, who are all imperfect human beings capable of change, just like you and I.

We are right to be angry. But when we fight fire with fire and respond to violence with violent rhetoric, the “meaningful conversation” is reduced to name calling and finger pointing. In our need to assign blame to something we can view as an enemy, we risk losing sight of the heart of the problem.

I have very close friends who are survivors. I’ve witnessed panicked reactions to triggering situations and seen the fear incited by a rapist’s continued presence on campus. I share your horror at Angie’s story, and I believe that I’m a part of the fight for sexual respect on Amherst’s campus. I am a constantly evolving feminist, but I realize that despite this I am still capable of making offensive comments, and this fact certainly does not excuse my statements from criticism. But I ask, even if you do not agree, that before running for pitchforks you respect an alternative reading of the situation and allow for this dialogue to truly be meaningful.

About Craig Campbell

“To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.” —Samuel Beckett

21 comments on “Humanizing the Other Side of Sexual Respect

  1. Cecilia Pessoa
    October 23, 2012

    Thank you for this article, Craig. Anger and outrage can motivate us, but they should not control us.

  2. Amani
    October 23, 2012

    Great post, Craig!

  3. Anonymous
    October 23, 2012

    Best response article so far. Let’s stop adding fuel to the fire and actually help relieve the problems. Thank you, Craig

  4. Matt DeButts
    October 23, 2012

    Well spoken, Craig.

  5. Anonymous
    October 23, 2012

    You’ve articulated thoughts that I have had far better than I could have. Thank you.

  6. Anonymous
    October 23, 2012

    Spot on. Thank you for showing that you are committed to an effort to change Amherst and hopefully larger culture for the better while retaining your powers of critical thought and rationality. By far the best response to this situation I’ve read.

  7. Anonymous
    October 23, 2012

    You should look more into KONY 2012 before using it as a parallel for this article.

    The article that your mention of KONY 2012 links too is wrong because Invisible Children does not condone the crimes against humanity committed by Museveni or the Ugandan government. None IC’s funds or donations go to either Museveni or the Ugandan government. And IC is more than aware that the LRA has moved out of Uganda and into other parts of central Africa.

    Maybe YOU should put down your pitchfork towards KONY 2012.

    • Lou
      October 27, 2012

      You’re missing the forest for the trees here….

  8. KB
    October 23, 2012

    Thanks, Craig. I think many of us — students, alumni, community members — share your thoughts almost exactly.

  9. J
    October 23, 2012

    Very Good Article. thank you for being level-headed

  10. speakingfreely
    October 23, 2012

    It is okay that people are upset…I would be concerned if they were not. We can’t kick a dog and not expect it to howl. Let people howl bc they are finally giving voice to their pain.

    We shouldn’t be shocked or upset by this but understanding–understanding that there is going to be some howling, we need it. We all know this place is too apathetic, non-confrontational and individualistic. So let it play out. Yes students are upset and we shouldn’t try to silence anyone’s emotions. This is the culture of silence. Shamming/silencing us because we have “frat” members as classmates is not okay–yes it’s okay if they feel uncomfortable because they aren’t the only ones who feel uncomfortable. If they’re feeling upset then let them come forth and howl too.

    We should not silence the victims or supporters of the victims or the perpetrators–how about no one. But understand why they are upset. No one has the right to conceal the visibility of anyone’s emotions (not saying this means anyone has the right to attack). And where there is emotion then there must be discussion. So maybe that means the school has to shut down for a day so people can really talk. Otherwise we continue to silence students by shaming them back into daily tasks of “normality.

  11. Anonymous
    October 23, 2012

    Thanks for writing this. It’s great that we are getting national media attention, but I was also disappointed with the articles that Jezebel and Huffington Post wrote — they really need to interview more people and cross check some of the stuff they are reporting on.

  12. Anonymous
    October 23, 2012

    Rape Rape was the tag or the article the headline was “Amherst Sweeps Sexual Assault Allegations Under the Rug” reading comprehension for the win.

  13. Anonymous
    October 23, 2012

    Thank you.

  14. Anonymous
    October 23, 2012

    I think the Kony person in the comments really missed the point of that example. We all jumped to this big conclusion that the video we were sharing was the most important video ever fighting for the most noble cause ever. The idea, as so wonderfully illustrated by Craig (fantastic post, by the way), is that we can’t let our emotions get the better of our logic and rational thinking. Yes, if you kick a dog, it will howl, but then you can’t blame it for biting you if you do kick it. Churning penises in blenders is certainly not the appropriate response to this sort of thing; if you doubt me, put yourself in the shoes of “the man” and see if they’d consider doing that.

  15. my sentiments exactly
    October 24, 2012

    wonderful article Craig. couldn’t have said it in any better way myself. And to those arguing against this article, please stop for a moment and ask yourself why again you took all of Angie’s article as fact when you hadn’t even heard the other side of the story. If it isn’t fair to disregard other people’s opinions and claims, then please stop criticizing Craig’s opinions and claims

  16. Anonymous
    October 24, 2012

    Thank you for this

    • Harvey Kaltsas
      October 24, 2012

      “The Rape of the Lock”
      was all we ever knew then.
      How our world has changed.

      ….Harvey Kaltsas ’69

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  18. Older and More Pissed off
    October 29, 2012

    Yes, let us be measured and reasonable and wait for some sort of justice and dialogue. We should wait another 40 years.

    Wow. Title IX has been in place since 1972. Rape and the foul treatment of victims have been going on at Amherst during that entire period. Outrage and disgust are the correct responses to the continuing abuse.

    Sexual respect? NO means NO, rape is rape. How much more needs be said–we assign blame to the perpetrators! The solution–don’t rape–directed to men because they are (usually) the ones who do it. Nothing new or shocking here, except the victims are demanding accountability and change. So please don’t think you are humanizing the other side of sexual respect until justice is done. It is a false dichotomy.

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