A moral imperative — addressing the problem of sexual assault

After a fall semester like the one our community has lived through this year, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s words hit close to home: “In… a free society, only some are guilty, but all are responsible.” As clergy members who work with students at the University, we feel this responsibility too. No one is immune to the effects of sexual violence, which ravages not only individual bodies and lives but also the trust and well-being of communities like ours. This is a cultural problem that affects students and groups throughout the University — Greek life, sports teams, political clubs, Dean’s listers and those of us in religious organizations.

What has been happening here is not okay. What has come to light this year is that, regardless of any one particular story, sexual violence has been a part of our communal story for far too long. We struggle with this tragic fact and with how to address the depths of pain, how to foster healing and how to become part of creating a more just culture. It is clear from our religious traditions that we must act. There is a moral imperative to love our neighbors and to transform our current culture.

We believe each person bears the image of God and it is up to each of us to look for and honor that image. We see this happening across Grounds through the efforts of the Women’s Center, the creation of the Green Dot program, the work of groups like One in Four and every time one person responds to a survivor with love and support. We are all responsible for this holy work of creating a just and safe community where sexual violence is no longer a problem.

We don’t have all the answers but we do know any way forward from here will require an honest appraisal of where we are today, leaning on one another for support and working together to change our culture. Communities of faith can be communities of support for survivors and places of healing for everyone. We can be communities of action and instrumental in creating the cultural change we all deserve. We are committed to this work and to being better partners with the larger University as we all move forward together. We all bear responsibility for what’s been happening here — and for what will happen next.

Rev. Deborah Lewis ‘90 and Rabbi Jake Rubin ‘02, on behalf of United Ministries.

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