“Time for Men to End Rape” Revisited

By Roy Ribitzky

Two years ago I wrote my first article for the Collegian called “Time for Men to End Rape,” a response to the problematic rape culture on campus and how men have an equally important role in challenging sexist systems of oppression.

Courtesy cs.umass.edu

As I am barely two weeks away from graduation, I’ve been reflecting on my experience. Over the last four years I have learned a lot about my identity as a white, straight, liberal, bi-national man living in Amherst. We can all attest to the hardships and reliefs of finding our place in the University of Massachusetts community as well as what lies beyond. Social justice, particularly feminism, has formed my experience and hardened my values and beliefs and has had a profound impact on my life.

This series is meant to address one of the most triggering aspects of college life: sexual violence. While all members of the UMass community have failed and succeeded in making this a better place to learn, we can still learn about holding ourselves to a higher standard, especially when we, as students, feel our voices aren’t being heard.

Thomas Schiff, the head of the Catalyst for Campus Culture Change and cofounder of Phallacies, spoke in an interview about the importance of preventing violence on campus, and how that prevention starts with the people we know and interact with.

“The entire community needs to engage,” he said. “Campus culture takes a long time to change, but we need more people to stand up and say violence is not tolerated on campus. Everyone has a right to be safe here.”

The previous installment focused on the impact sexist comments have within the Student Government Association. But just as important is recognizing the impact standing up for each other has on the community.

“Even if it’s only one or two people, it’s important for men and women to know they have an ally,” said Sen. Sean O’Connor, a junior.

That sentiment was echoed by newly elected SGA President Akshay Kapoor.

“We should go around making sure people who we work with feel comfortable in this environment. I think some people don’t realize the effects these comments have,” Kapoor said.

“While the actions of a few individuals who make comments objectifying women create that environment, those comments are angering, frustrating, inappropriate, and hurts the Senate as a whole,” said Sen. Mike Cusher.

Conversations about sexism and socialization have already taken place among SGA senators. Sen. Keith Lema spoke about the unearned privileges as a white man.

“As a white male I have it pretty easy, and I guess there are [sexist] comments that might roll off my back more so than someone who deals with it regularly. I’m working on being more sensitive to that,” said Lema, adding that it is an important discussion to have “as far as seeing other people’s perspectives.”

We all come to realize our positions in society differently. Some learn by experiencing oppression, while others like me learn from hearing other people’s stories and being sensitive to the people around us.

O’Connor spoke vividly about learning the power language and dialogue has over people.

“I went to an all-male catholic school, and I remember a conversation we had in my theology class my freshman year about homophobic language,” he said. “Even if you don’t intend to hurt anyone, it translates over to the people whose identity is being targeted – similar to how some guys throw around kitchen jokes. I don’t think people go out of their way to be sexist, but it’s definitely patronizing.”

The individuals who are said to engage in sexist behavior were not available to comment. But like many of the people I spoke with, O’Connor emphasized the importance of addressing the issue head on.

“There’s a difference between saying someone is dressed really well and saying someone should wear gym clothes more often,” he said. “We need an honest conversation to absorb how messed up that type of language is. I think it’s important to make the guys uncomfortable; you have to make people realize what they’re doing.”

The feminist movement teaches us to be critical not just of society’s actions but also of our own. It is easy for individuals to jump on the bandwagon of sexual freedom, but we also need to realize where the boundaries are. Cusher embodied this, cautioning against men feeling that they have to be saviors.

“There’s a fine line between being supportive and perpetuating the objectification of women. Men need to know we have a responsibility to represent all the students on campus,” said Cusher.

New student leaders of SGA are making a concerted effort to prevent sexism within the body. This effort is happening in the public forum, as it should. A positive precedent is being set about how men and women need to be treated in the political realm. There is a long way to go, and some of the old guard remains. But with the men and women leaders standing up and holding their peers accountable, our university can look forward to a more representative – and active – student body.

“Next year’s speakers Hayley Mandeville and Emily Grey are setting a really good example that gender and sex have no say in how well you can be a leader,” said Cusher. “It shows that despite the ignorance of a few individuals, we voted in a manner where we selected the two people who would do the best job.”

We won’t know for sure what the dynamics of the SGA and the university will be like in the future. But in a time of economic upheaval, social tensions, and political fears all around the globe, many students, faculty and staff in our community are doing what they can to make UMass better than the year before. We all have a role, and we all have a responsibility to act. That, for sure, will be one of the greatest lessons I can take from my experience at UMass, and I hope others share that belief in activism.

This is the last in a three-day series on violence and sexism on the UMass Amherst campus. Roy Ribitzky is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].