Am I surprised?
Nope, not at all. After four years, I have come to expect the silence this month brings. But after 4 years, I have finally reached a breaking point. I will no longer stand in silence. If there is one thing I have learned through my Justice and Peace Studies courses, it is that is silence favors the oppressor.
As a campus community, we can no longer be silent about sexual violence.
I have had conversations with members of the administration regarding the lack of education on this campus regarding sexual violence. Their common response is that they would like to do more but are bound by the Catholic identity of the university.
A very recent incident of this occurred when Melissa Seymour, a co-facilitator of FemCom, and I reached out, hoping to find some support for a consent campaign we wanted to do. Their initial response was that the way we were framing consent as an affirmative “yes,” making it sound as though we were supporting premarital sex. They would’ve preferred if we would have changed the wording and focused on “no.”
But here’s the deal: Giving or not giving consent to any physical or sexual contact is more than saying, “No, I don’t want to.” You have to say, “Yes, this is what I want” because what happens if I say “maybe” or if I don’t respond? Is that consenting?
This is why FemCom believes consent is a sober, verbal, continuous, enthusiastic yes. We are not encouraging students to have sex. We recognize that students are having sex, and we want everyone to be safe. Failing to educate students is ignoring the reality, and it helps maintain an environment that is not only dangerous, but one where sexual assault is normalized, and survivors are silenced.
Needless to say, we did not get the support from our contacts in administration, though we were told it was because the mission of their program doesn’t align with ours. I am not sure how educating our campus about what consent is doesn’t align with the goal of making campus safer.
I believe the core problem we have at St. Thomas is that there is a lack of education. No one wants to talk about the unpleasant reality that occurs not just at St. Thomas, but everywhere: rape and sexual assault.
What is sexual assault anyway? I guess that was covered in Mike Domitrz’s “Can I Kiss You?” lecture that all first-years are highly encouraged to attend. If you didn’t go or can’t remember, well, you’re out of luck because just as soon as our education on the subject starts, it stops. And that is exactly the problem. One speaker isn’t going to change the culture of our campus. We have to. We mustn’t allow sexual assault to continue, and April would have been the perfect time to address it, but no one took the opportunity to do so, and yet again we have all fallen silent and are allowing it to continue.
Every time administration fails to address sexual assault, they are allowing it to continue.
Every time TommieMedia fails to report on sexual assault and refuses to let survivors share their stories anonymously, they are allowing it to continue.
Every time Green Dot fails to take a stand, they themselves become bystanders to sexual assault. They are allowing it to continue.
Every time students fail to understand that rape jokes are never–and never will be–funny, they are creating an unsafe campus where sexual assault can prevail. They are allowing it to continue.
Every time this becomes a women’s issue–something that the Women’s Center, UAWE or FEMCOM needs to address–the voices of not only women but also men who have experienced sexual assault are silenced.
Every time sexual assault survivors are pushed toward Counseling and Psych Services to talk about what happened, it becomes something that survivors have to deal with, not something that the whole community has to address.
St. Thomas, let’s end our silence. Let’s talk about rape. Let’s talk about sexual assault. Let’s talk about what we need to do to make our community safer for all people.
To get started, please consider joining FemCom at our next two events:
The Clothesline Project on Tuesday, April 29, (starting) during convo hour on the lower east quad.
Take Back The Night, Round 2 on Thursday May 1, at 8:30 p.m. in the Luann Dummer Center for Women (more info here).
Other helpful links:
Become familiar with what constitutes sexual assault and St. Thomas’ response to it here.
And for more information on sexual assault on campuses, click here.
Editor’s note: For the past several weeks, TommieMedia has been working on an in-depth report on sexual assault that is set to be published next week. TommieMedia values the voices of those with personal stories about sexual assault. Due to the sensitive nature of sexual assault, TommieMedia will invite readers to share their own stories and experiences through an anonymous online form posted as a link at the bottom of the upcoming story.
-Heidi Enninga, Director