On rape culture

A look at the campus culture as a whole

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Nina Walat / Daily Collegian

By Emma Garber, Op/Ed Editor

It’s late August. You are 18 years old and preparing for the big move-in day. Like every college freshman, you’re excited, a bit nervous and unsure what to expect. You buy bedding at Bed, Bath & Beyond, get your room assignment, say goodbye to your high school friends and before you know it the big day is here. You hug your parents goodbye, there’s a few tears and some photos taken for Facebook, and now you’re finally on your own.

Somewhere in there, someone might have given you a few final pieces of advice: don’t walk alone at night, don’t be alone with strangers and don’t put your drink down at a party. These warnings ring in your ears, only half registering upon first listen.

Back on campus, you and your new friends are excited to go to a college party for the first time. After all, it’s the first weekend of college, your first taste of freedom. You don’t know anyone who lives off campus. You’re too young for the bars. Out of options, you make your way to the fraternity houses.

At the fraternities, brothers hold all the power. The Greek emblems on their chests are badges of honor, granting them absolute control for the evening. This is their house with their rules. They ooze confidence, deciding who comes and who goes. Boys aren’t welcome, but girls are a commodity. You’re herded inside like cattle. You go along with it, albeit a little intimidated, but this is a rite of passage, right?

You feel people brush past your body, bumping into you, hands casually grazing your body without an apology. You aren’t quite sure what’s intentional and what’s a mistake. You and your friends clutch hands as you make your way through the house, an unspoken fear shared amongst you that if you let go, one of you will be engulfed in the masses, pulled away and lost forever.

At some point, some of you may get lost. Studies say that a quarter of women will be sexually assaulted during their four years at college, but the real number is probably higher.

Those of you who now bear the title of “survivor” will face a bureaucratic nightmare in reporting. They’ll ask: “What were you wearing?” “How much did you drink?” “Are you sure you didn’t say yes?” Some of you will decide to stay silent, to pick up the pieces and try to return to life as you knew it before.

By sophomore year, you and your friends carry pepper spray and whistles on your keys. You know which paths on campus to avoid late at night and call each other on the phone when you walk back to your dorm from the library in the dark. You all have stories of creeps following you across campus, or that guy who wouldn’t leave you alone on the bus.

At some point, these just become facts of life. You are so used to feeling unsafe, you hardly notice it anymore.

It’s late August once more. You see young, excited freshmen moving in, just as you once did. Every weekend, you see the basement windows light up in the fraternity houses. You see groups of girls coming and going, sometimes wandering home alone at night. You see the boys behind fences and at doors, assuming their role as gatekeeper, slapping each other on the back and pumping their fists in the air. Monday morning, you hear laughter of their weekend conquests in lectures or the dining halls.

Nothing changes.

Rape culture is not defined by a singular incident. It is not unique to the University of Massachusetts. But it does not need to be this way.

As a community, we must build a culture that fosters safety for all, that holds perpetrators accountable, that believes survivors. This starts with accountability and action at the administrative level.

Next August, a new freshmen class will arrive on campus. What culture will they meet upon their arrival?

 

Emma can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on twitter @EmmaGarber1.