What are we talking about?

Whether you typically play the role of groper or gropee, there is no denying that Dartmouth students in general have a lot of sexual contact. And while the optimistic view is that we all have the potential to get laid, the downside is that the constant grind of bodies amidst a haze of alcohol makes the issue of sexual assault difficult to define or even recognize.


Sexual assault, however, never fails to inspire heated debate at Dartmouth.


This year has already been an busy one for sexual assault activism, beginning with the controversial November 6 edition of "The Still North," a comic in The Dartmouth which was interpreted by many to make light of, or even condone, sexual assault.


Andrew Lerman '10, who draws and writes the comic, said that he was simply attempting to satirize Nietzsche's often extremist sentiments.


"In no way was I trying to undermine the issue of sexual assault," Lerman said. "I wasn't trying to silence people about sexual assault. It was supposed to be a satire on Nietzsche, but I guess when you put something so obscure with such a hot-button issue you are going to get reactions."


The hot-button issue of sexual assault that Lerman refers to is one that Student Body President Tim Andreadis '07 championed in his platform last spring when he declared the proportion of women sexually assaulted at Dartmouth to be 17 percent. "We took information based off of estimates taken from [Sexual Assault Peer Advisor Program Coordinator] Leah Prescott, and multiplied this by the number of students on campus," Andreadis said. "It wasn't meant to be strictly scientific, but that's an estimate of wide-scale sexual assault on campus."


According to Andreadis, sexual assault is an issue that many students have trouble defining. He also believes that sexual assault is part of the bigger problem of socialization and the game of gender roles, with men taught to play the role of the aggressors and women taught to be submissive.


"I think neither men nor women are talking to each other honestly about issues. It's a game they're playing," Andreadis said, "I think how we construct masculinity and femininity puts people in a power dynamic that neither may want to have. No one wants to really entertain the fact whether or not, what it means to be a man or means to be a woman might already be wrapped up in notions of sexual assault."


While Andreadis, as a public figure, is willing to fully express his views on sexual assault, the average Dartmouth student is not so eager to comment on this issue. Practically every Dartmouth male I questioned about sexual assault blushed and said almost verbatim, "I don't really know enough about the issue to say anything." For their part, women were slightly more eager to express their opinions.


For example, Sonia Lei '08 offered her definition of sexual assault.


"Sexual assault to me is any type of non-consensual touch -- from inappropriate touching to excessive unwanted flirting. I think it is hard with the frat scene to avoid that situation."


Jessica Long '08 suggested that alcohol plays a large role in sexual assault.


"I think a lot of time it occurs when someone assumes a person is one way and he or she turns out to be another way," Long said, "For example, a person might seem laid-back and relaxed when sober, but when alcohol gets in that person he or she can become very different, which can take people off guard and open up the potential for someone to be taken advantage of."


Other women, however, do not see sexual assault as a very common campus problem.


"I've never felt sexually threatened here and, as controversial as it sounds, I think both parties need to be held accountable," Bridget Alex '08 said. "I don't think when a girl says, 'I was drunk,' that counts as sexual assault."


The idea of both parties being held accountable is one which begs the greater question of who is the victim and who is the aggressor. Many people picture sexual assault as a victimization of women, which is indeed the majority of cases, but according to Andreadis, men are sexually assaulted as well.


"I don't think men report sexual assault. I think men are sexually assaulted as well, though," Andreadis said.


The lack of reported cases that involve men as victims may partially due to the fact that many things that are inappropriate for men to do to women are deemed less serious for women to do to men.


"A girl approached me at a recent dance party," Justin Curtis '10 said, "She went through my pockets, she grabbed my crotch area and said that I was 'going home with her' that night."


So what is campus doing to stop sexual assault?


"There are limited things I can do," Andreadis said, "I'm working with [the Greek Leadership Council], [the Inter-Fraternity Council] and [the Panhellenic Council] to make SAPA training mandatory for all new pledges or at least have people go through some SAPA program because I do think it helps people open their eyes to the problem."


SAPA itself has many programs to address sexual assault. The organization has designated April "Sexual Assault Awareness Month."


"SAPA organizes and participates in numerous programming activities throughout the year to educate people about sexual violence in an effort to prevent it," SAPA intern Rachel Isreeli '07 said. "At the very least, programming will include a screening of a hip-hop movie followed by a discussion, tabling and information about sexual violence for Wellness Week, a poster campaign and visiting speaker Marcy Carlone who will speak about sexual violence in the LGBTQ community."


Other students think that Greek houses need to take greater responsibility for the problem.


"I think that the Greek system has to hold members accountable for sexual assault," Hilary Dionne '07 said. "If a member of a house sexually assaults someone, there should be some type of consequence for the entire house, especially if the assault occurred within that house."


Isreeli claimed that one of the biggest obstacles in confronting the issue of sexual assault is the sexual violence presented repeatedly in media.


"Until people recognize the dynamic of sexual assault -- that survivors never ask to be assaulted and that blaming the individual only serves to further victimize him or her and reduce the chances of survivors sharing their stories -- it will be incredibly difficult to combat sexual violence," Isreeli said.


Despite programs to diminish sexual assault, Dartmouth, with its fondness for Keystone and patterns of hooking-up, can never be free from debates on sexual assault.


Lerman echoed the sentiment that many students share on the issue.


"It's sort of created by the inevitable social environment of Dartmouth, and its isolation, which creates a frat culture," Lerman said, "I think it is something that should be addressed and talked about in serious ways."