When I look back on my first-year orientation, one phrase immediately comes to mind: “Is this okay?” All the members of the Class of 2016 went to a required session on navigating the sexual landscape of college. The two speakers stressed the importance of consent, and the phrase “is this okay?” was their example of a cool, casual way to make sure that whatever you are doing with someone is, in fact, “okay.” Of course everyone in the audience, including me, laughed at the demonstration by the two speakers. Looking back, however, the laughter of our innocent first-year selves hinted at something less amusing.
College campuses across America are plagued by sexual assault, and Colgate is no exception. The recent forum on the sexual climate at Colgate once more brought the severity of the issue to the surface. Of the people in attendance, almost everyone had either been personally sexually assaulted or knew someone that had. Almost everyone there indicated that they were aware that sexual assault is a problem at Colgate. Yet the conversation about sexual assault and how to prevent it is still not heard in many parts of this campus, and the sexual climate forum made me even more aware of the challenges that Colgate students face in the fight to end sexual assault.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the chapel for the forum was that the audience was overwhelmingly female. Sexual assault is not just a women’s issue, yet the male population of Colgate was severely underrepresented. This is the first challenge Colgate must overcome if we want to prevent sexual assault on this campus. Men can be both perpetrators and victims of sexual assault, and they can have as much of an impact in preventing it as women. I wish more male students had heard how uncomfortable many women feel at parties, on the Cruiser or even walking down Broad Street because of the sexual climate at Colgate. Colgate women often find themselves in situations where male students are trying to “get laid,” often by providing female students with alcohol at parties. Unfortunately, this attitude can easily make women feel objectified, pressured and, ultimately, unsafe. The male-dominated social scene creates environments in which women feel powerless and are not necessarily able to say “no” to something that they don’t want to do. If more men on Colgate’s campus were aware of this, they could have a profound effect on the social scene at Colgate, simply by acting in such a way as to make more people feel safe.
The audience at the Sexual Climate Forum was also largely made up of students involved in Greek life. The moderator of the forum bluntly stated that sexual assault on college campuses is largely a Greek issue, and the Greek majority in the audience perhaps corroborates this statement for some people. However, sexual assault is not the result of Greek life by any means. First and foremost, perpetrators cause sexual assault. People who commit sexual assault are the ones responsible for it, not Greek life. Statistics do show that students involved in Greek life are more likely to commit and/or be a victim of sexual assault. I would argue that this is simply because at schools with Greek life, fraternities are where the majority of parties occur, and parties are an opportunity for perpetrators to act. The system of “frat parties” promotes a culture in which a small group of guys buys a lot of booze and invites a large group of females to a party. Once again, the idea is men give women alcohol, women get drunk and so women are willing to hook up with men.
This is the attitude that provides the perfect storm for sexual assault. A perpetrator can easily assume the guise of a friendly guy at a party in order to get women drunk to the point where they cannot resist. The idea that whichever male is most successful with females is somehow better than the rest promotes more aggressive behaviors when attempting to interact with women. And the idea that a woman owes a man sexual gratification if he voluntarily provides her with alcohol implies that when a female student attends a party, she is somehow consenting to sex, regardless of whether she wants to or not.
In order for Colgate students to start preventing sexual assault, we need to start promoting a culture that emphasizes consent and condemns behaviors which support a predatory attitude towards women. Preventing sexual assault is not about women versus men or Greek versus non-Greek students. Avoiding sexual assault is about preventing perpetrators from acting and ensuring that appropriate consequences for their behaviors are given. If all the students at Colgate actively attempted to speak out against sexual assault and prevent behaviors that promote it, maybe this problem wouldn’t be so prevalent on this campus.