Hunter: Moving Beyond a Petition
On Saturday afternoon, a petition entitled, "Administration of Dartmouth College: Build feminist consciousness at the College in order to end the perpetration and normalization of sexual violence" began to circulate around Facebook and via email. Students from the Women's and Gender Studies 80 class that created the petition posted links to the site, asking fellow friends and students to sign and share it ("Daily Debriefing," Nov. 12). While any effort to eradicate the pervasive nature of sexual assault on Dartmouth's campus is admirable, the petition furthers an ineffective and troubling assumption about how students regard sexual assault at this college. This issue is twofold: The petition offers false logical assertions while also demanding changes that do not adequately get to the heart of the problems underlying sexual assault.
For one, the petition asserts that Dartmouth students "are taught to accept that sexual violence is a facet of our campus like the Bell Tower or the Green." While I disagree that this is a fundamental truth, I would also argue that this petition only adds to the already oversaturated campus dialogue about sexual assault, an oversaturation that can only serve to weaken the ability to reach the larger student body. I would never claim that we should stop assessing the ills and causes of sexual assault, but to understand reality is to understand that students will tune out the discussion after a certain point a point that I believe was reached long ago. This oversaturation has manifested itself in the creation of groups like the Committee on Student Safety and Accountability and the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault, groups that were created by the administration and rarely meet, which are largely ineffective and lack much-needed transparency.
The petition also calls for "creating and enforcing zero-tolerance policies toward interpersonal violence of all types, particularly sexual assault." While this is theoretically a perfectly reasonable request, it completely ignores the reality that many students simply do not trust the efficacy of the Committee on Standards. The COS is widely considered to be a kangaroo court of sorts that somehow claims to understand the complexities of sexual assault better than students who encounter it on a personal level, and one that has not shown transparency with Greek organizations in the prosecution of members who have been convicted of sexual assault. Additionally, the petition asks for "all existing social spaces [to provide] equal opportunity for people of all genders to own social space and host campus social life." Despite any arguments in favor of single-sex social spaces, one needs only look at Alexandra Essey's recent essay ("Through the Looking Glass: Frame of Reference," Nov. 9) to understand that forcing single-sex Greek houses to become coeducational is neither realistic nor sensible and is in the worst interest of the larger social environment at Dartmouth.
It is worth mentioning that the petition does make a sound point or two, namely that we should centralize all sexual violence prevention resources and require first-year students to attend sex and sexuality seminars. However, the nature of sexual assault prevention on this campus will continue to be largely ineffective at reaching a large demographic of students if the dialogue remains the same. Contrary to the belief of some, everyone is against sexual assault. The first step in actively lowering rates of sexual assault and reaching those outside of the choir will be to understand this. There is not an active minority of students who seek to increase the rate of sexual assault because this is not a Lifetime movie. This is the real world, and in the real world sexual assault is far too complex an issue to simply solve by demanding the College eradicate vague and socially systemic issues of "sexism, homophobia, prejudice and violence." Much like hazing, we will only see a decline in sexual assault once we see students take the initiative to change their personal concepts of gender and power not a petition, not a white ribbon, not another student-and-administrative task force and not another diatribe against the Greek system and Dartmouth traditions. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that an online petition (and other tactics of a similar nature) is useful or particularly helpful in spurring change. Dartmouth prides itself on a tradition of camaraderie, teamwork and the passion and drive of its students, and it is with these same values that we will persevere and eventually decrease the troubling rates of sexual and physical assault.
Max Hunter is a member of the Class of 2013.