Monday, September 30, 2013

Silence: The Enemy of Progress

I was part of a recent discussion regarding sexual assaults that have occurred on my campus.  When I hear and see these issues that keep happening in communities and college campuses, my heart hurts and I am frustrated.  Frustrated because these issues keep happening, and I have to wonder, where are the men, en masse, in these discussions? Where is my place in these discussions on how to dismantle these visible components of rape culture?  I, like many men, can be disengaged or even silent. This silence is allowing for events such as the following to continue happening on our campuses:
  •  In May 2013, four Morehouse College athletes were arrested for two separate sexual assaults (Finley, 2013).
  • USC is currently under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for allegations made by students accusing the school of mishandling 16 rape and sexual assault cases (Camero, 2013).
  • [Sexual assault survivors] claim that [University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill] often acts as though no assault has taken place, protecting alleged rapists while victimizing students and disenfranchising assault survivor advocates (Kingkade, 2013).
  • A group of students filed a federal complaint against Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania that claims the private liberal arts school is underreporting sexual violence on campus and discourages [survivors] from reporting (Kingkade, 2013).

Many of us sit back and purport blatant lies that silence survivors of sexual assault.  We don’t believe sexual assault survivors; instead we rationalize the rapist experience.  We don’t listen to them or understand the severity of the situation.  We ostracize them by shrugging off what happened.  We blame survivors.  Those actions are ways we silence survivors by not saying a thing.  Why do we choose silence?  I suspect, it’s easier to deny an issue than to give it life.  By remaining silent on these issues, it gives us an out.  If we acknowledge that there are horrific actions happening on our campus, we are complicit in its prevalence, but by remaining silent we don’t have to acknowledge the sad realities occurring on our campuses.
 So here’s some truth (“Sexual Assault Violence Prevention (SAVP)”, n.d.):
  • 84% of college men who committed rape said that what they did was definitely not rape.
  • Nearly one third of college men said they were likely to have sex with an unwilling partner if they thought they could get away with it.
  • 5% of college women who were raped report the rape to the police.

Caroline Kitchener, in an August 23, 2013 article in The Atlantic, states, “At college, a [survivor] is hardly ever a stranger. He's that guy in your 12-person English seminar, or the Vice-President of the fraternity you party with. Almost a third are a "close friend" of the [survivor]. 41 percent of the time, the perpetrator is the [survivor’s] boyfriend…Often, the [survivor] does not report the assault because she's either afraid of ruining the guy's life, or of the stigma and social isolation she will feel if she does.”  Hong (2010) asserts “the vast majority of institutions of higher education fail to target college men meaningfully in primary prevention efforts.”  Collegiate efforts are centered on risk-reduction and self-defense for women, focusing on environmental factors such as campus call boxes, or offer survivor-advocacy programs; however, the reality is that these programs are (a) not a viable form of prevention, and (b) are prescriptive of the symptom (not the cause) of sexual assaults (Hong, 2010, p. 277).  Our programs are not treating the cause of sexual assaults on our college campuses:  OUR COLLEGE MEN.  Again, we remain silent.

Hegemonic forces have socialized contemporary male gender roles to depict violence and power as exclusive agents in sexual maturity.  Everyone is familiar with the “Bro Code;” however, it’s laughed off.  When college men state, “I got some last night” or “I tapped that,” their sexual partners are depicted as mere objects.  Power over another exists in these statements. When these statements are not challenged, again, silence wins.  As a society, we’ve come to find solace in silence.  Silence is our best weapon against progress…against dismantling the hegemonic forces of privilege, power, and oppression.  After hearing some recent accounts of sexual assaults both locally and in national news, I cannot remain silent any longer. 

It is time to speak up.  It is time that we change the message that is being sent to our college students.  Young women are hearing messages that tell them, “Here’s how to not get raped…” however, it’s time to focus on our young men.  We need to resoundingly tell them, “DO NOT RAPE.”  Oftentimes, the bulk of this work is in the hands of incredibly strong women, but rape culture and sexual assault is not a women’s issue.  At its stem, it is a men’s issue, and it is time for men to speak up and break the silence.  This is a call to action because our collective silence is harmful and creating dangerous cultures on our college campuses. 

I’m not naïve enough to think that any one solution will be a silver bullet solution, but something has to be done.  It is time to engage our college men on practices of HEALTHY sexual expression.  It’s time to teach our college students what healthy relationships really are.  In doing so, we seek to change the paradigm from sexual gratification through objectification to one of an authentic, healthy, communicative relationship.  But how do we get there?  At times, it’s too slow of a path it seems; however, there are small, impactful ways that we can start to change our campus cultures.

Here are three challenges that I have for you in the next week:
  • Talk to your college men about healthy relationships.  What does it mean to be in a healthy, equitable, and supportive relationship?  How do they know that they are in a healthy, supportive, communicative relationship?
  • Engage your college men on what CONSENT truly means.  Do they understand when they have consent?  Do they understand how to ask for consent?  Are they even comfortable asking for consent (If no, then are they truly emotionally ready to engage in sexual activity)?  Do they understand what consent isn’t?
  • Connect your student leaders with resources.  Give them opportunities to connect with university administrators, clubs, or other resources that can offer support to survivors of sexual assault. 

a.     Resources include (but not limited to): 
  • Connect with your coworkers—particularly the men—on ways that you can work to create a safer environment in your working departments.  This dialogue is important and missing.
  • Connect with your coworkers on ways that you can work to create spaces in which students and coworkers feel safe to share their stories and experiences.  
  • Above all else:  SPEAK UP.  BREAK THE SILENCE.
Sean Eddington is a Residence Education Coordinator at Purdue University.  In his work, Sean oversees the development and residential education of close to 1200 college men at Cary Quadrangle, one of the largest all-male residence halls in the United States.  The core of his work with college men is on wellness, resiliency, and wellbeing.  Connect with him on Twitter @seanmeddington or on his blog:

Camara, M. (2013, August 26).  Sexual assault endemic to college campuses.  Daily Sundial.  Retrieved from
Finley, L.  (2013, September 3).  Campuses must act to prevent sex assault by athletes.  The Cap Times.  Retrieved from
Hong, L. (2010).  Toward a transformed approach to prevention:  Breaking the link between masculinity and violence.  In  Harper, S. and Harris III, F. (Eds.)  College men and masculinities.  (pp. 276-298).  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass. 
Kingkade, T.  (2013, April 18).  Swarthmore college faces federal complaint alleging underreported sexual misconduct.  The Huffington Post.  Retrieved from
Kingkade, T.  (2013, January 16).  University of north Carolina routinely violates sexual assault survivor rights, students claim.  The Huffington Post.  Retrieved from
Kitchener, C. (2013, August 23).  How to encourage more college sexual assault victims to speak up.  The Atlantic.  Retrieved from
Sexual Assault Violence Prevention (SAVP). (n.d.) Retrieved September 20, 2013 from


Anonymous said...

So how do YOU personally talk to students about this? It seems so ambiguous when these blogs perpetually shove philosophy in my face, but never offer examples of people ACTUALLY making a conscious effort to be the difference. It's no mystery universities fail to educate when the expectation to teach is passed like a hot potato instead of someone stepping up to the plate.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comment wholeheartedly. I work in a well-respected ResLife system also in the BIG 10, and it seems as though the sentiments of this blog are ubiquitous. While the concept is noble, the execution is always lacking. I'm afraid the profession as a whole is less centered on student affairs and is instead obsessed on building up the self-importance of the "professionals" who are part of it. Take a poll of the students living in residence halls, and I doubt many care (or even have time to think) about issues this blog builds itself upon. While these issues matter, at the end of the day the impact it has on students is all that matters. The paradigm of what the will actually improve student success has remained unchanged for sometime: having a happy and healthy environment will lead to intellectual success. Instead of focusing on a goal as simple as that, the percieved problems that SA professionals seem to think need to be solved are in fact not affecting the students living in our halls.

Anonymous said...

"Take a poll of the students living in residence halls, and I doubt many care (or even have time to think) about issues this blog builds itself upon." Are you talking about men? If you are, then you are very likely correct. But then, isn't that the very definition of privilege? Of course college men don't often think about this, most of them have the luxury to not have to.

But assuming that statistics involving the prevalence of sexual assaults committed by males against women, it is also very likely that most women think about these things very often. And I can't be sure, but I would bet that not feeling safe around the other gender/sex would be detrimental to success.

To think that these violent acts, and the systems that perpetuate them, do not impact my students' ability to achieve success is pretty misguided.