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The devil is in the details

The University community must recognize the complexity of the issue of violence against women

Responses to Rolling Stone’s article have been eager to lay blame — on the Greek system, on the University, on President Sullivan, on Dean Eramo…somewhere. The responses seem to be dividing into two poles — vilifying the University or defending it; vilifying the Greek system or defending it. An entire bureaucracy becomes a mass of either good or evil; a point person at the top of the hierarchy becomes culpable for a problem that is more widely rooted in culture. Honing in on these targets ignores the nuances we need to pay attention to in order to address this issue.

The nuance gets even more lost when people conflate multiple problems into one. One protester on Saturday night held a sign that said “No more Yeardleys. No more Hannahs. No more Jackies. No more violence against women.” All of those incidents do qualify as violence against women, and we can talk about violence against women broadly as a cultural issue. But because the issue is so broad and so wide-reaching, there is no catch-all solution.

Calls to abolish the Greek system abound, but banning Greek life will not eliminate rape. Rape occurs at universities that have no fraternities. And as we have discussed, punishing the entire Greek system for offenses which not all fraternities have committed is unfair and will likely inhibit any kind of meaningful improvement in the University community. Policy changes do not necessarily change culture. Banning fraternities is not guaranteed to eliminate dangerous situations, alcohol abuse and sexual violence. Parties will likely go on but move further out of the purview of the administration.

There are calls to eliminate the University’s Sexual Misconduct Board and turn all reports of sexual assault over to the police. But Title IX does not allow the University to take a pass on adjudicating these cases. And the victim’s choice of who to report to — or whether to report at all — must be respected. If we are to be victims’ advocates, we must respect their wishes.

Because we want change immediately, it is tempting to pinpoint a single figure as the cause of violence and fight to tear it down. But such an approach is self-defeating. President Sullivan could be fired and we would wake up in exactly the same position, still confronting violence. After we march down Rugby Road and chant and vent our anger to the world, we must lay down our picket signs, sit down at our computers and educate ourselves about the complexities we are dealing with. Read the new sexual misconduct policy. Read about Title IX. Read about how to be a victim’s advocate. Come to the discussion table and listen to other people’s opinions.

Before we direct blame at a greater system or a higher-up, we must turn inward. Each and every member of this community must think about how we could be to blame, and how we could do better. Have you ever heard a story about a rape and thought: she’s probably lying? Have you ever seen an intoxicated woman being taken upstairs at a party and looked the other way? Have you ever heard a rape joke and held your tongue? Have you ever blamed a survivor, or let her blame herself?

If yes, you can do better. We can all do better.


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