Verbum Ultimum: Looking Beyond V-Week

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 2/16/12 11:00pm

The coming of V-Week each year encourages the reopening of dialogue on issues surrounding sexual health, violence and female empowerment at Dartmouth. Many V-Week events provide opportunities, particularly for women, to explore issues of sexuality that some people may find uncomfortable to discuss in everyday life. We applaud the efforts of the organizers of V-Week to draw attention to these important issues and spark discussion among students. However, such dialogue needs to continue beyond this week and extend to a broader section of campus that includes men as well as women if it is to have any hope of effecting meaningful change.

It is an unfortunate truth that V-Week's capacity to reach a broader audience has historically been limited. Despite the best efforts of V-Week programmers to reach out to the entirety of campus, the audiences at the events next week will likely be composed predominantly of women who are already enthusiastic about participating in public conversations about potentially uncomfortable sexual topics. This form of self-selection ensures that both men and women are unlikely to come out of V-Week with their perspectives challenged by others across the gender aisle or those with different views of sexuality.

It is a shame that V-Week has failed to attract large numbers of men to talk about these issues, as no comprehensive discussion of sexuality is complete without input from members of both genders. Dialogues on inter-gender sexual relations and violence in which all of the participants are on the same "side" or share similarly limited perspectives can often serve to cement misunderstandings and are often counterproductive. Issues of miscommunication are at the heart of much of the gender-fueled tension and resentment on this campus. The lack of dialogue is unsurprising and cannot be blamed on any one party. Many students find conversations about sexuality particularly with distant acquaintances or strangers awkward and embarrassing.

There are, however, examples of student forums that have successfully broached these issues. Many students affiliated with Greek organizations have had the experience of participating in mandatory coeducational Mentors Against Violence facilitations that force members of fraternities, sororities and coed houses to debate questions of sexuality and sexual violence with one another. These discussions take place in areas in which students are in the company of many of their closest peers, allowing the discussions to potentially avoid some of the discomfort associated with these topics.

Similar facilitations are also held in many first-year residence halls, though students are less compelled to attend. Many students only attend one or two of these types of events in their Dartmouth careers, and then the dialogue stops.

Those interested in improving sexual health among Dartmouth students and who are working to end sexual violence should seek to expand programming that attracts participants of both genders and of multiple perspectives in forums conducive to open discussion. V-Week is a good start and an important step, but those who frequent its events are not the only ones that need to be involved if change is ever to occur.

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