A structuralist approach to sexual assault prevention

Curbing the Red Zone


Nina Walat / Daily Collegian

By Taru Meshram, Collegian Contributor

October. The month of the beautiful Massachusetts autumn. Amidst the workload of college and the beginning of fall, it is easy to forget that it is also the time of the year called the “Red Zone,” or the time of the year during which more than 50 percent of sexual assault cases occur on campus. The most vulnerable students are freshmen and, in the case of this year, the sophomores to whom the campus and its culture are just as alien. According to RAINN, one of the leading anti-sexual assault organizations, 13 percent of all graduate and undergraduate students experience sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. Specifically for undergraduate students, 26.4 percent of females and 6.8 percent of males are sexual assaulted. These numbers are indicative of a far more serious and horrifying issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Various preventative methods have been devised to tackle the issue of sexual violence on campus, including increased awareness through university-led programs, intervention by the administration and establishment of various services. However, sexual assault issues are not just isolated incidents but are structuralist issues and hence should be dealt with accordingly. Some universities have already begun to do so. Columbia University has started the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Initiative, or SHIFT, program. It focuses on treating sexual violence-related incidents as a socio-ecological issue and promotes students taking greater responsibility leading to a subtle but substantial change in the college environment for the better. There is a lot that can be learned from this program, but what does it entail for students like us?

The student body must help the administration in creating change, provided that the University is also willing to go the distance. However, the lack of action from the University does not absolve those of us who have not been directly or indirectly affected by sexual assault of our responsibility.

Each student has the responsibility to do the bare minimum to make our campus safer and more welcoming for all students. It starts with taking accountability and educating ourselves on these matters. The University has a sexual education course which is mandatory for all students, but it proves short of the mark. Every student learns differently. To some, more data-based analytics could help them learn about the gravity of these incidents. To others, more personalized literary pieces might help them come to terms with the reality behind these situations. There is no dearth of resources available for students online and even on-campus and it is important that we make use of them and take initiative on our own.

The next step is talking about it. That’s it. Just talking. Conversations about these topics can be tough and uncomfortable but they are necessary. These are very pressing issues that impact all of us in some way and we need to talk about them with those closest to us, particularly those who are shielded or alienated from these conversations. It is a small conversation, but it can go a long way. Often, it is much easier to dismiss these issues as having nothing to do with us. However, it doesn’t take much to do the right thing. And if you don’t know what to talk about, then there is always the first step. Educate yourself.

Following this is action. Adopt what you learn into your everyday behavior. Prevention is possible but it does not come in the shape of a shining knight on a horse. It comes in the form of a collective change, one that all of us must take accountability for by educating ourselves and talking about these issues. This responsibility is heightened for those who are not directly impacted by issues, often men. “Masculinity” is often seen as a point of pride, but an important characteristic of being a ‘man’ is making sure that the people around us feel safe. However, this should also not be seen as merely a chance to be a good person. Far from it, it is the chance to do the bare minimum.

In most instances, issues like these are sadly reduced to stories on social media and are eventually forgotten. All the focus is given to the surface problems, but the majority of people do not make an effort to learn about how actual change can be made. By tackling the issues under the surface, we can create much-needed change so that people of all genders, ethnicities and backgrounds feel safe and welcome at the University of Massachusetts. Because you and I deserve it. Because each one of us deserves it.

Taru Meshram can be reached at [email protected]