Recently, The Cavalier Daily published an editorial entitled the “Devil is in the details.” In it, the Managing Board criticizes the human tendency to find people and things to blame in times of crisis. It highlights this problem particularly in relation to the recent outrage over sexual assault in the aftermath of the recent Rolling Stone article.
The editorial decries lumping together all the cases of violence against women. It highlights the fact that this issue is broad-reaching, deeply ingrained and multi-faceted, and as such it is impossible to pin it on one root cause. It especially stresses the fact that there is no silver bullet to immediately and permanently fix this problem.
This is where I especially take issue; there is a silver bullet. The only fix-all, end-all is a zero-tolerance policy, which will change the environment to one which refuses to participate in a culture that blames victims and lets criminals walk away. The power of zero-tolerance is exceptional because while intellectuals and deeper thinkers would be skeptical of the power of such an arbitrary and ill-defined goal, specific goals work to rally the common people — the men and women who find abstract principles difficult to get excited about. In a perfect world, abstract principles would gather more followers than vigilantes looking to make heads roll, but this is not a perfect world. Therefore, we need to utilize the rabble-rousing power of the mob to start a movement which will reshape our community according to the abstract principles of cultural change which were described in the editorial.
A zero-tolerance policy would mean that any group, be it a fraternity or other organization on Grounds, with repeated sexual misconduct offenses would immediately be kicked off Grounds. Additionally, any individual who is accused of sexual assault would be suspended as soon as a University official is notified of the event, and expulsion would be the only punishment the accused is found guilty. This is not the fairest way; we would be punishing people by association. And it is not the easiest way; we would be forced to endure countless expulsions and scandals. It is, however, the only way to change a culture rooted in excuses and violence. By punishing entire organizations, it forces people to look out for their friends to make sure they are doing nothing wrong. Instituting mandatory prosecution and harsh punishments sets a iron example of what will happen to transgressors.
Furthermore, the editorial tells those protesting to “lay down their picket signs” and “turn inward.” The main problem with this call away from arms is that this reflects a belief in a much larger movement than what is actually there. In actuality, a large percentage of those who are protesting right now are those who have been protesting and active even before this article came out. To tell these people that they are not having their desired effect and to tell them to self evaluate is pointless, because they are already aware and educated to the point where the only difference that can be made is to increase their numbers. These are people who do not look the other way.
Additionally, most ordinary students will never see, know about, or participate in violence against women. Only about 6 percent of men have ever attempted rape and these are disproportionately serial offenders. Most men and women have not and probably never will commit sexual assault. To tell those people to put the blame on themselves is wrong. These people should not be criticized as they were in this editorial. The population as a whole should not be condemned, only those who commit these crimes, those who condone sexual violence, or those who victim-blame.
The University and the community as a whole should approach this issue pragmatically not just through harsher punishment but also with direct prevention. Instead of punishing fraternities, the University should sponsor more events that they can oversee and guarantee are safe. This would allow the University to maintain its reputation as a school that has fun while guaranteeing that there is the option of University guaranteed safety and respect. This would reduce the power of fraternities by increasing the supply of parties which, right now, is a market dominated by Greek life, especially for vulnerable first-year students. It would demonstrate to many of these students the ability to have fun without alcohol.
The only way tangible change is made in such a democratic system and to fix a problem rooted in culture not policy, is through a large movement. However, a large movement is impossible without something to rally around, which is why having tangible goals is an important ingredient in any campaign for change.
Sawan Patel is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.