Whipple was wrong

Words do perpetuate sexual assault


Collegian File Photo

By Sophia Corsetti, Collegian Columnist

University of Massachusetts head football coach Mark Whipple was recently suspended for a week without pay after using the term “rape” to describe a moment from last week’s game. Whipple now must also attend mandatory sensitivity training. In the wake of the suspension, there have been varying views on how Whipple should be punished. Some have argued the suspension was not enough, while others have argued it was overboard. Though misusing a word is seemingly harmless, this is the type of insensitivity that perpetuates sexual assault. The faculty at UMass should lead the way to a standard of zero-tolerance for sexual assault.

As a football coach, Whipple should be setting an example for young men who are likely exposed to a rape culture. College campuses are known “hot spots” for sexual assault and rape culture. Comments like Whipple’s only perpetuate rape culture. Of course, his comment does not inherently suggest rape is acceptable. What it does show is a lack of sensitivity for the norms that encourage actual rape. When the term is misused or joked about, especially by someone in a leadership position, it encourages an apathetic attitude toward rape.

Many members of the UMass community have expressed disapproval for Whipple’s suspension. This is an understandable perspective – after all, Whipple did not assault anybody. However, his comment perpetuates a culture in which people that it is okay to assault others. Jackson Katz, a UMass alum and recent guest lecturer, explained the power of denouncing these situations. He gave the example of an Australian military commander who publicly condemned rape jokes made by men in his unit. These jokes were made on Facebook and they targeted female soldiers in the unit. The commander told the unit there was zero tolerance for these jokes. Further, he told the men responsible to “get out” and “find somewhere else to work” if they did not respect the women in his command.

It is leaders like the Australian military commander that the world needs. We need professors, administrators and coaches who openly denounce sexual assault. We must demand that our leaders stand with victims of sexual assault. We must demand that our leaders work to end rape culture, especially our male leaders, as they have the power and platform to do so. It is not enough to write off comments like Whipple’s as “just words.” How are we to distinguish between words that are just words and words that will lead to action?

Whipple’s comment comes at a time of heightened sensitivity about issues of sexual assault. The Brett Kavanaugh case, along with celebrity sexual assault cases, have brought attention to the issue. Unfortunately, the outcomes of these cases only prove we are not as progressive as a society when it comes to sexual assault. Many accused and known sex offenders are let off the hook, often citing lack of credibility on a woman’s part. Fortunately, changing this pattern is possible. It begins with zero-tolerance for rape culture. It begins with believing women. And, in the case of Mark Whipple, it begins with a rightful suspension.

We have the power to build the foundation to erode a rape culture. Though the process may be uncomfortable, we need to rewrite the social norms that we create. Since the remark, Whipple stated, “I am deeply sorry for the word I used on Saturday to describe our play in the game.” Whipple continued to say, “It is unacceptable to make use of the word ‘rape’ in the way I did and I am very sorry for doing so. It represents a lack of responsibility on my part as the leader of this program and a member of this University’s community, and I am disappointed with myself that I made this comparison when commenting after our game.” Though seemingly sincere and regretful, Whipple should have done more to condemn rape culture. It should be the norm to acknowledge the dangers of an apathetic attitude toward rape. I am hopeful that future UMass leaders will exercise thoughtful speech and exercise a zero-tolerance policy toward rape culture. In the meantime, I am proud of UMass for the rightful suspension of Whipple, because rape is not “just a word.”

Sophia Corsetti is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]