It takes a conference

I’m sure you’ve heard the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” It’s a great line, reminding us that many worthy endeavors are based on a sense of collective responsibility. I share it again because there’s no doubt in my mind that when it comes to eradicating sexual assault on our campuses, it will take a NESCAC.

I saw this principle in action last weekend when I attended ConsentFest along with representation from five other schools. I learned that when sexual wellness advocates from School of the Art Institute of Chicago want to reach their students, they rely on installations and performers. When Bowdoin wants to enact a change in their campus culture, they start with their sports teams. This reminded me that every campus has its own qualities and strengths.

Although the Bowdoin delegation was quick to add that their athlete-targeted approach isn’t for every school, as the founder and editor of the website In The ’Cac, I’ve spent enough time writing for a pan-NESCAC audience to know that schools in the ’Cac have more in common than not.

A transferable model for addressing campus sex culture can be as simple as a t-shirt slogan. In fact, the mantra “Party With Consent” migrated from Waterville, Maine, to Williamstown, Mass., with surprising ease. “Speak About It,” a travelling show about “consent, boundaries and healthy relationships” is another example of the transferable model. The show is produced by Bowdoin alum Shana Natelson and has been performed at Bates, Colby, Williams and Hamilton. Back in October, Natelson told me that she’d love to take “Speak About It” to all of the NESCAC schools – and there is no reason why she can’t.

Wesleyan leads the charge in creating queer-friendly communities. Wesleyan’s BELLIG is a new student group that provides a space for students who want to practice and play around with drag. Unfortunately, fellow NESCAC schools continue to struggle with transphobia, as evident by the incident at Hamilton last weekend that reached Twitter. The student targeted tweeted to the school’s Women’s Studies department about physical and verbal harrassment they were recieving for their “performative gender transgression.”

Campuses that struggle with maintaining an inclusive environment for all genders and sexual orientations could benefit from the lessons of a ConsentFest session led by the Williams Queer Student Union who reminded us of a stark truth – “We all become tokens by entering spaces where our voices aren’t wanted.”

“I was harassed for performative gender transgression. What about those in our community who identify as transgender/sexual?” asked the same Hamilton student who was targeted last weekend. Just as every ’Cac school has something to offer its 10 conference compatriots, each individual in the ’Cac has a skill to contribute towards encouraging sex positive campuses, free from violence. Some of us are graphic designers; others are natural socialites, intramural sport captains or avid ‘B’ film connoisseurs.

I’m the person who presses “publish.” The night that Angie Epifano’s op-ed went viral in the fall, I received this text from one of my bloggers: “I think that I should write about my sexual assault experience.” I remember looking at those words on my phone like they were the most precious thing in the world. A woman’s voice was being recovered, and I happened to be in a position to hand her the proverbial WordPress microphone. If a reason existed for the months my team had spent acquiring “follows” and “likes” this was it: A sexual assault survivor had something to say, and the NESCAC would be listening.

At ConsentFest, we talked about “social architects” – those students who carry out programming designed to adjust campus culture. When I hear the phrase “social architect,” I think of an earnest collegiate advocate leaning over a blueprint. She crosses out “haven’t made eye contact since drunken sex freshmen year” and pencils in “exchange meaningful glances over sushi.” But this image can be misleading – we shouldn’t forget that we are both the architects and the construction site. There’s no building material on the blueprint that we didn’t bring. No, we’re not raising a child, but we’re raising our consciousness – and erecting new paradigms in the process.

In seeking to eradicate sexual misconduct from our campuses, we’re trying to solve an issue that previous generations haven’t managed to dismantle and rebuild. The specter of sexual assault and rape cannot be scrubbed, fertilized or endowed out of existence. So guess what? We have to be more committed, and we have to be more empathetic, and we cannot let our resources go to waste – our resources like Twitter and Facebook, but most of all our resources like each other.

We are 11 schools strong, and the invitation to act has long since passed. How many bags of concrete do you have in your gym bag? What’s that 2×4 doing tucked between your textbook pages? I’m the person who presses publish – who are you?

Daisy Alioto attends Bowdoin and is the founder and editor-in-chief of In The ’Cac.

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