MENEZES: We deserve better
We must demand more sophisticated behavior and discourse surrounding sexual assault
In today’s paper is my friend Emily Renda’s account of her encounter on the Corner after the Syracuse game. I think I speak for every member of this community when I say that three men cornering a lone woman at night is not a sophisticated way to express dissenting opinions. The historically inclined among us may note the irony of calling someone a “femi-nazi” while physically intimidating her for her beliefs. Emily, a fourth-year College student involved in sexual assault advocacy work, recognized her assailants from an audience to whom she had presented, which makes for the most disturbing part of the whole narrative. The language the men used indicates to me that this incident was to some extent a response to her advocacy work.
The establishment of One Less forged together Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness (SAPA) with Sexual Assault Facts and Education (SAFE). This all-women’s group functions both in an educational and advocacy capacity. It also serves as a support organization for survivors of sexual and relationship violence. When members of One Less present to groups such as fraternities or first-year halls, they do so with the intention of equipping them with tools to help survivors, be active bystanders and maintain healthy, consensual sexual practices. The work that they do is not anti-male; it is not anti-sex. It is the work of peer educators, a role that should never carry with it the risk of physical intimidation or harm.
Of all the women in that organization that could have faced this, Emily is in an excellent position to transform it into an opportunity for the people of this community to learn and to discuss. She has several years of experience on this battlefield, and has already spoken out through this paper to bring the University community into this conversation. For many women in One Less, giving these presentations is a valuable part of their recovery from even more sinister forms of violence. The kind of behavior that occurred Saturday night sends a message to these women that they should be afraid. When you accost an advocate in the way these men did, you reprimand their courage, you silence them and you place yet another barricade on the road to recovery.
I am writing today to reprimand their cowardice, and to encourage my peers to raise barricades against such conduct. I am writing because, as a man, I am ashamed that other men choose to behave in this way. The other members of their organization are probably ashamed of them too, because I am certain many of them learned something they considered valuable when the women from One Less spoke. The way they acted does not befit a member of this community.
I am a member of an all-male organization, One in Four, that does similar work in education and advocacy. I often tell people that the reason One in Four exists is to allow male peers to facilitate men’s first exposure to issues of sexual violence. It affords us maximum familiarity with our audience, because many men feel uncomfortable discussing such weighty topics with women. Who can blame us? We aren’t brought up to be cautious about our bodies, about what we wear. We aren’t taught to fear victimization, but we implicitly learn that we don’t need to worry about it at all. When many men hear an impassioned woman speaking out against sexual violence, they may balk, asking, “Why are you telling me this? I have never raped anyone, I never would. Why do I have to sit through this?” The goal of our organization is to show that men are affected by rape all the time, and that men can and should be part of the solution. We are affected when our friends, male or female, are assaulted. We are affected when survivors feel unsafe coming forward and perpetrators go unapprehended. And we are affected when cowardly, short-sighted men misrepresent our sex in order to vent their frustrations.
These actions fall against a backdrop of tremendous progress. The Inter-Fraternity Council’s sponsorship and universal participation in the Handprint Project shows that the men of the University are taking a stand and making this issue their own. The Handprint Project was a public art project staged at each fraternity house by Democracy for America, One in Four, One Less and the IFC, to demonstrate fraternity men’s commitment to active bystander intervention in the season of Boy’s Bid Night. Recently, the University played host to representatives from 78 schools, including the presidents of six, to discuss campus sexual misconduct at a conference that garnered national attention.
Emily Renda is not a lone voice that you can push around on the way home from bars; she is a harbinger of things to come. This school, and this country, are fast becoming places where the once-voiceless speak out, and people listen and take action. These men are the exception to a new emerging consciousness, and their frustration looks ugly to just about anyone. There are many forums for constructive disagreement, and in fact these debates strengthen social movements by putting their shortcomings on trial. We welcome discussion, we welcome disagreement, we welcome anything that helps more people explore these issues. But to anyone who would rather use darkness and intimidation to see their views realized, we will continue to leave them behind.
This school deserves better from its students. These women deserve better from their peers. We all do.
Matt Menezes is a second-year Master’s candidate in the Batten School and the president of One in Four.