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Combining Conversations on Campus Culture

Photo by Shaina Mishkin

Photo by Shaina Mishkin

(Gina Faldetta)– Mid-orientation week, signs went up in first year dorms for a last-minute, surprise event: Angie Epifano, known for her harrowing account of administrative mistreatment, was going to be back at Amherst for the first time since she left after her sophomore year. She would be holding a talk to share her insights on the Amherst administration and its response to on-campus sexual assault with incoming first years, upperclassmen, and faculty.

The event was held on the freshman quad, in front of Frost Library. Fifty people sat in a circle on the grass to hear Angie speak. There were many staff members and students – but only three were first years.

Faculty and students alike were interested in discussing sexual assault as a campus and administrative issue. Everyone seemed informed and appreciative of Angie’s perspective. But it brought to mind something I have been hearing people say for a long time now: the people who most need to be educated on these issues are never the ones who go to the events.

It’s not that this comes as any surprise – of course the people most likely to go to rallies, meetings, and discussions about the sexual assault and disrespect are the ones who are educated and passionate about solving these issues. But a lot of these events, such as Angie’s last Friday, are largely held in an effort to spread awareness and educate students. It’s interesting, it’s informative, but when only those already aware of the issue show up, it’s on some level just preaching to the choir.

Angie’s discussion brings up the question of how to reach students who aren’t invested in the issues being discussed. Craig recently wrote about the fallacy of “Amherst Apathy,” but the fact is, not many students want to take time out of their day to talk about rape. That’s understandable, because sexual violence isn’t the most pleasant topic by a long shot, but it’s a little disconcerting when less than thirty people showed up to last semester’s anti-rape rally in front of Converse Hall. Are there really only thirty people on campus opposed to rape?

Of course not, but the threshold of interest needed to attend these meetings is surprisingly high. Only the most passionate students end up coming to most of the sexual assault discussions and protests, whereas the students who care about these issues, but not that much, don’t bother attending. The result is usually an embarrassingly poor turnout that doesn’t attract much attention from the campus community, adding to the cycle of students being unaware or indifferent about these events.

There are various reasons for this low involvement, the most convincing one being the busy schedules of Amherst’s high-achieving students. But it’s an issue worth contemplating, especially when you consider that a small college such as ours is a cultural microcosm in which it is relatively easy to affect change. It’s an opportunity worth taking advantage of, and one way we can do so is by a heightened awareness of the way every aspect of campus culture intersects.

It’s been mentioned before that the spaces on campus shape and influence campus community and should thus be considered with care, but maybe we should start discussing the ways in which issues of community spaces, dorm renovations, and the like intersect with issues of gender equality and sexual assault. Do the Socials create an environment in which the risk of sexual assault is heightened? Does the Women and Gender Center work as a safe space in which marginalized groups can seek refuge, if necessary, or does it serve to further separate them from the greater campus community? These types of questions are worth asking, and asking them in more general discussions about campus culture can include a wider variety of members of our community.

The issue of sexual assault on campus is complex, despite the administration’s “best” efforts to simplify it, and it should be addressed accordingly. We need to start recognizing that every aspect of campus culture – physical spaces and rape culture, athletics and the definition of gender vs. sex, diversity and self-segregation – is interrelated and need to be thought of as such in order to affect real change.

About Gina Faldetta

You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she's not deadly. She's beautiful and she's laughing.

6 comments on “Combining Conversations on Campus Culture

  1. Peter Crane '15
    September 10, 2013

    Not to negate any part of this article, but I (personally) never saw an advertisement for her event. I only heard about it super last minute by word of mouth. Additionally, I think quite a few first-year students had programs (CEOT, FOOT, etc). I know there were advertisements in a few dorms, but I just was basically caught unaware by the event.

    This is not to fault Angie or her team in any sort of way – getting a publicized and well-attended event on such short notice was tough (and they did work hard in the little time they had) – but maybe just my way of arguing that this low turnout was more logistics than Amherst apathy.

    I was interested in getting her to come back again, in a more formal way, via the sponsorship of Campus Activities Board (Combined SoCo and Program Board) and its Lecture Committee. Doing this, I trust, in a more publicized and less ad hoc sort of way will bring many many more students.

    As of now, my words are just words, but I would like to get funding to bring her back and give her a bigger spotlight. If any of you agree, let me know.

    (Also a side note, but the new Dean of Students Jim Larimore not only attended the gathering, but met privately with Angie apart from the event. I think some other administrators were there too)

  2. anonymous '14
    September 10, 2013

    Though I agree with your general points, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that few people attended this last-minute surprise event. Secondly, I’m tired of reading/hearing attacks on the student body about their apathy, apolitical-ness, etc. With regards to the issue of rape on campus and in the world, a lot has changed on campus thanks to student activism in the past year.

    I feel most of the student body agree that rape is a heinous crime, one shouldn’t rape people– and maybe I shouldn’t speak for the student body but I wonder– what the point of these talks would be, since most of us who don’t rape, don’t support rape, will and have stood against rape already know how horrible rape is. (Awareness is important, yes. Which brings up another responsibility of making sure new amherst students are aware of recent happenings– which is different from talking about rape and protesting rape to the same people over and over again. How do you protest rape? Who are you targeting?) It seems so far we know a lot about rape on campus thus far: it happens, the administration has dealt with it poorly, we’ve made some changes, but of course by no means solved the problem. So how do we solve the problem? I wonder if anyones thought to delve into rape psyche, where and how it is OK-ed on anyone’s moral compass. I haven’t seen any conversation about about trying to understand why someone would rape (not that that’s pleasant or necessarily possible) but it seems obvious to me that cracking that complicated puzzle is key to fostering that education and culture that will lead less empathetic individuals to stop and consider… That’s just a maybe-situation. Maybe it’s not the kind of thing that can be “morally educated” out of people, it should be warded off with threat of punishment, instead. I don’t know.

    My point is, the conversation seems to have come to a halt. The best thing we can continue to do for now is keep awareness of the issue alive instead of being mad at everyone (most of campus (minus freshmen) who are aware) for not showing up to a surprise last-minute event during which nothing new was discussed.

  3. anonymous '14
    September 10, 2013

    Ok, maybe some people don’t already know how horrible rape is, ie. past administration. But if someone is convinced that having been raped must ‘not be a big deal’, then you’re probably not going to get these folks to come out to talks/events in the first place. If this is the case, we should be thinking about how to make people interested in learning about the truth of rape experiences. Which is tricky, how do you get someone who either knows that X tastes bad or at least that X is not good, to try to come hear more about X just to learn exactly how bad it is. (sorry if this is a bad ex. but i hope my point comes across)

  4. Shruthi Badri
    September 12, 2013

    In my mind, while busy schedules, reluctance to talk about rape or apathy are legitimate reasons that we don’t have as many students as one would like at these events, these are not the only, or even most important concerns. Here are some other things to consider:

    1. How these events are publicized: Like Peter said, Angie’s visit was not very publicly advertised, at least to upperclassmen. I heard about it through word-of mouth; someone thought to tell me because I’m (as you described above) one of those people who goes to most of these events. If I wasn’t, I would have never heard about this, so it seems like there is more than one way the people who show up are a self selecting group.
    2. What students believe they can learn from these meetings: The sentiment in anon ’14’s comment above is one I have often heard expressed. If students believe that they are going to hear a sermon on why rape is bad, of course they’re going to think that it isn’t something they should go to, because ‘they already know rape is bad’. There is a (misconceived) notion that rapists are inherently bad people, who will rape no matter what, so several students are not sure how they could contribute to fixing the problem, beyond acknowledging it is indeed a problem. Students need to believe they have some new information to gain when they attend these events, that will help them be a part of the solution if we are to expect greater attendance.
    3. Ability of students to participate: Is the language used in these events one that is accessible to students not familiar with the vocabulary of discussing these issues? Do students feel comfortable offering their opinions, or are they made to feel (intentionally or otherwise) intimidated?

    It seems that these criteria have a very significant bearing on the amount of participation we see at these events, and maybe thinking about them will help us move forward to a place where conversations about sexual respect are not limited to the same, small group of individuals on campus.

  5. terrairradient
    September 14, 2013

    For any incoming class orientation, I’d recommend the summer reading of Rosiland Wiseman’s latest book “Masterminds and Wingmen” that delves into the psychology of young men and how to communicate to them. Without a doubt young women need to take responsibility for their actions and be street savvy when it comes to avoiding potentially risky situations, however, even more crucial is the education of our young men who, despite a half century having elapsed since the feminist revolution, remain dangerously misguided by entrenched patriarchal attitudes of privilege and entitlement. So how many feminists does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is that it is not the light bulb that needs changing.

  6. Pingback: The Case for a Mandatory Sexual Respect Class | AC VOICE

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This entry was posted on September 10, 2013 by in Gender and tagged , , , , .

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