Before I began researching for this article, I figured that Williams had a handle on the issue of sexual assault on campus. I figured schools like Wesleyan, which is dealing with yet another sexual assault lawsuit against one of its three fraternities, Psi Upsilon, are the schools that really have an issue. Surely Williams, with such active groups like the Rape and Sexual Assault Network (RASAN) and Men for Consent (MFC), does an effective job of stopping incidents of sexual assault on campus.
And then I saw the statistics released by Dean Bolton concerning sexual assault for the 2011–12 academic year. They were startling to say the least: In 2011–12, 13 sexual assaults were reported. 19.2 percent of females reported receiving unwanted sexual contact. 9.9 percent of females reported unwanted attempt at sexual penetration. 4.4 percent of females reported unwanted sexual penetration. So it’s safe to say that sexual assault at Williams is a problem unsolved. I was fairly oblivious to this, and I can imagine a number of my peers are as well. And so it makes sense that RASAN meets with entries throughout the year in addition to coordinating campaigns like “Take Back the Night.” MFC does a great job with ConsentFest, displaying creative and funny posters around campus that involve various student groups. The world isn’t a perfect place – Williams certainly has its flaws, and completely eradicating sexual assault from campus is an incredibly difficult task. But could we make it better? Could the student body work as a unified front to look out for one another? Of course.
So what’s the problem? RASAN and MFC (the groups that most actively spread awareness about sexual assault on campus) lack a wide appeal to the student body. Let’s face it: There’s a definite tension between members of our student body and these groups. A poster that was put up around campus does a good job of demonstrating why there’s such tension (and it was the impetus for my writing this article). Some of you might have seen a poster with the words “Men” and Rape” in bold black letters. In between “Men” and Rape” the words “can stop” are written in small letters. I, along with many of my fellow students, was genuinely shocked and offended by this. I was surprised to see something so blunt and accusatory put up around campus. It’s important to note that these posters weren’t created by any student group. They were made by Troy Headerick, who held the talk “Ending our Campus Rape Culture,” which the posters were advertising. The Dean’s Office, however, along with MFC, approved these posters. I was, and still am, totally befuddled. That being said, this poster is indicative of the relationship between the Williams (male) students and organizations like MFC and RASAN. Posters like this one antagonize and accuse – they do little to encourage us to solve problems.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that men are responsible for the vast majority of incidents of sexual assault – and I think most people are aware of this. What are these posters achieving then? They’re certainly not inspiring the men of Williams to be proactive in working with groups like RASAN and MFC. There has to be a better way to combat the issue of sexual assault than through accusations and conflict. Cooperation is always viable. But I felt no desire whatsoever to reach out and cooperate with MFC or RASAN – let alone go to this discussion – when I, as a man at Williams, felt demonized.
RASAN is a fantastic group. They have a staff that’s well equipped to respond to any issues that callers have. They are undoubtedly there for anybody faced with an issue related to rape or sexual assault. MFC does a great job as well. However, that’s only one piece of the puzzle. It’s a crucial piece, of course, but the piece that’s neglected is the one involving a realistic, productive dialogue between the male population at Williams and those already working to address the problem of sexual assault. MFC is clearly attached to RASAN, and thus it lacks the accessibility to men who might feel antagonized by RASAN or even by MFC itself. There needs to be a group of male students that accurately represents
the student body. A group of men that come from all walks of life. That group should be working alongside the administration, RASAN and MFC to realistically solve problems. Together they can call on their peers through encouragement; no accusation should be involved. I mentioned earlier that I was surprised by the statistics Dean Bolton released on sexual assault. I consider myself a typical Williams student, and if I was as oblivious to the truth as the next Williams guy, then maybe a problem lies in our awareness. But if our peers whom we respect, and who we know respect us, call on the student body to solve a genuine problem that is plaguing the Williams community, I feel that we will make great strides in dealing with sexual assault. Finally, I’d like to note that the name of Troy Headerick’s discussion was “Anger is an Energy: Inciting Emotion to End Rape Culture.” So maybe the goal of Mr. Headerick’s ridiculous poster was, in fact, to get someone to write an op-ed calling for developments in handling sexual assault. I can’t definitively say, but the article is written, so now I truly hope we can work together to eliminate sexual assault from Williams.
Malcolm Moutenot ’17 is from Nashville, Tenn. He lives in Williams Hall.