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Letter to the Editor: I’m asking for it; give me consent

By , Emily Kindelspire  |  Wednesday, April 30, 2014 2:31 PM

Logo_Letters_1April is sexual assault awareness month, but unfortunately it has come and will go without recognition here at St. Thomas.

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.

Emily Kindelspire

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

This item was posted in Letters From Readers, Opinions and has 15 comments so far.

15 Comments

  1. Paige Johnson
    Apr. 30, 2014 3:32 PM

    Thank you so much Emily for writing such a well thought out article. This is really important information and hope that it can reach a lot of viewers! THANK YOU!

  2. Nadine Thibault
    Apr. 30, 2014 3:41 PM

    Wow, brilliant article Emily. Thank you for sharing. 

    “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.”  –Well said.

  3. Claire Winzenburg
    Apr. 30, 2014 4:48 PM

    Emily, thank you so much for writing this. It is such an important message that the St. Thomas community needs to hear. Survivors voices are silenced far too often both on this campus and in our society as a whole. 

    I love that you made the point that sexual assault is not just a “woman’s issue.” It’s everyone’s issue. Rape and sexual assault affects everyone. Anyone can be a survivor, anyone can be an assailant. This is why your message of consent is so incredibly important!

    Thank you again, Emily. You’re such a beautiful human being, and you never fail to amaze me!

  4. Sherry Jordon
    Apr. 30, 2014 5:41 PM

    Thank you for an excellent article, Emily. Thank you for providing a model for the education about sexual assault and rape that needs to take place here and on every college campus.

  5. Dr. Susan Myers
    Apr. 30, 2014 5:52 PM

    Excellent job, Emily.
    For decades, I worked as an advocate for victims of sexual and domestic violence. I have worked to draw attention to the reality of rape, which is epidemic on college campuses. I have urged bystanders to intervene in situations that could be dangerous and friends to watch out for one another. I have done this precisely because of values that St. Thomas says it too holds: being morally responsible, acting wisely, working for the common good. It is precisely because St. Thomas is a Christian Catholic institution–believing in the dignity of every person, the flourishing of every individual, and the importance of working for justice–that it is imperative for us to recognize when someone has been harmed, to educate about what rape is, to watch out for the safety of one another, and to bring perpetrators to acknowledge their actions and make recompense. This IS our university’s identity. Let’s act on it.

  6. Ryan Burke
    Apr. 30, 2014 5:58 PM

    This is such an important piece for our campus. It is time that UST steps into the 21st century and starts admitting (and reporting) that sexual assault and rape happens on campus. 95% of adults have sex before marriage in the US. Start educating or do not claim to be a safe campus. Students will no long sit back to an administration that is stuck in 1950.

  7. Morgan Schreurs, FemCom Co-Facilitator
    Apr. 30, 2014 6:19 PM

    For those of you in the UST Community interested in addressing this issue at “Take Back the Night, Round 2″ as Emily suggested above, feel free to search and join the public event “Take Back the Night (Round 2) – UST” on Facebook.

  8. Madison
    Apr. 30, 2014 6:39 PM

    THANK YOU so much for writing this. As someone who has experienced sexually assaulted twice at St. Thomas, I have felt silenced. My own roommates and friends told me what happened was normal and to not report it. Today, I regret not doing that, but now all I want is to educate our community. It saddens me that my roommates and peers thought what happened to me was “just what boys do” and something to tease me about. I realize that their sentiments stem from a lack of education and that our community desperately needs this dialogue.

    I’m hoping these upcoming events and this powerful article will inspire others to encourage the change that needs to happen in order for UST to be the upstanding community we claim to be. 

  9. Madelyn Larsin
    Apr. 30, 2014 8:03 PM

    Amazing job Emily! Thank you for writing this piece! I hope that every staff and faculty member reads this and takes action because like you have said, this should be an initiative led by the leaders on this campus and by not acting, they are allowing it to continue to happen. 

  10. Rita Kovtun
    Apr. 30, 2014 10:02 PM

    For those interested in more on this topic, I’d urge you to read a piece on Al Jazeera America describing the politics of the terminology we use to describe rape and sexual violence.

    http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/articles/2014/4/17/nonconsensual-sexwhenrapeisreworded.html

    Also, here’s a recent piece from MPR describing what can be done to help survivors come forward. The article states: “One of the White House recommendations would begin to get at this reporting shortfall. It calls for schools to conduct a climate survey, anonymously asking students about their experiences and attitudes. At first, it would only be voluntary, but administration officials say the goal is to make it mandatory by 2016.”

    Also, take a look at our campus Clery Report from 2013. UST is required by law to report crimes on and around our campus: http://www.stthomas.edu/media/publicsafety/pdf/cleryact/2013-Statistics—Campus-Security-Act-Report.pdf

    Notice the categories “Forcible Sex Offenses” and “Nonforcible Sex Offenses.” The totals are lower than one might expect, given the size of our university.

    I’ll quote a student activist from the MPR piece “In looking at the crime statistics that our campus is required to report, they may as well not.” We know that this category of crime is notoriously under reported, so the need for education and awareness is especially critical on this campus.

  11. Corrine Carvalho
    May. 1, 2014 7:58 AM

    I point out the awesome consent poster in the Anderson Center to anyone who happens to be walking with me at the time. I love it! Thank you, FemCom and Students for Justice and Peace for you activism!

  12. Melissa Seymour
    May. 1, 2014 10:52 AM

    SO happy to see an article like this. Well done, Emily! However, I think it’s ridiculous that this has to be a student-led initiative. It’s embarrassing, really. The majority of other campuses have posters, meetings, rallies, marches, continuous RA and student leader trainings, and tons of administrative support. I’m really frustrated and think it’s rather disturbing that students have to be the ones to step up and say ‘hold on, this isn’t right’. Thanks for this well written article, Emily. You rock!

  13. Kelly Knutson
    May. 1, 2014 12:22 PM

    Spot on. Thank you for writing this and being the voice for so many who’ve been affected on our campus.

  14. Michael Blissenbach
    May. 2, 2014 11:29 AM

    I agree that this is a problem at St. Thomas and I thank Ms. Kindelspire for raising attention to it. What I would propose as a solution is working to teach students to view each other as beings created in the image and likeness of God who should be treated with respect and dignity. One of the problems we face in our age is that a lot of people see no problem with exploiting their fellow human beings to get what they want. If we can remind our fellow students on campus (I’m a current law student and a UST undergrad alumnus) that their fellow human beings have innate worth and dignity and should be treated with respect because they were created in the image and likeness of God, UST would be that much closer to a welcoming community where everyone is treated with the love and compassion they should be shown as sons and daughters of God.

  15. Dr. Deb Broderick
    May. 5, 2014 1:06 PM

    As the chair of the UST Green Dot Committee, let me say that we are in full support of Emily’s call to end the silence about sexual assault on our campus and to work toward changing the culture. However, I was disheartened to see the inclusion of UST Green Dot as a contributor to that silence, especially since our committee members provided six different trainings and, offered a day-long intensive training, during the month of April. UST Green Dot received requests for trainings in April from students, faculty, and staff all wanting to learn how they can help reduce sexual violence on our campus. Over this past academic year, UST Green Dot provided nineteen trainings in classrooms, residence halls, at first-year orientation, Fall Leadership Institute, and at new employee orientation. We believe the Green Dot strategy is simple; each person doing what they can, in any small way, to shift the culture from one that tolerates sexual assault, through inaction, to one that absolutely does not tolerate sexual assault and to a culture that expects everyone to do their part to end all kinds of violence on our campus. We hope everyone in our community will take Emily’s words seriously and continue to do what needs to be done to make our campus safer for all.

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