Verbum Ultimum: An Important Conversation

The excitement of a new year shouldn’t blind us to our lasting issues.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 9/16/16 12:30am

For many Dartmouth students, the beginning of the fall term is one of the most exciting times of the year. People are starting new classes, reuniting with friends and joining new groups or taking on new positions in their current organizations. For incoming students, that excitement (and nervousness) is often multiplied tenfold. Between the nervous excitement of a new place and new people, the Dartmouth centric fervor of Trips and all the amazing programming directed at first-years, it can be easy for all of us, new and returning students, to get swept up in the excitement of the beginning of the school year. Amid all that energy and celebration, however, there needs to be some somber consideration of some of the more sinister realities that come with starting a new school year. Perhaps the most frightening and tragic of those realities is that over a thousand people, and thousands more across the country — are at an age where they are much more likely to be the victims of sexual and relationship violence than in any other time in their lives.

Assault is endemic on college campuses around the country. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 23 percent of female undergraduate women and 5 percent of undergraduate men experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. This does not include the victims of many other forms of relationship violence, such as stalking or harassment. This issue is especially prevalent at the beginning of the school year. More than 50 percent of college sexual assaults occur in August, September, October or November, and students are at an increased risk during their first few months at college.

The seasonal increase in incidents of assault is most likely due to a combination of factors. First off, there are over a thousand young, possibly naïve people coming into a social structure where they hold very little power and can often easily be taken advantage of. Further, first-years go out in social settings with acquaintances rather than close friends as they have yet to form those bonds. Being in a new social setting without people who know you and are looking out for you can make first-years more vulnerable.

This is not to say that any first-year is in any way to blame if they are assaulted; the victim is never to blame for their assault, period. However, this reality does make it easier for those people in our community who would take advantage of someone who hasn’t established their bearings or identity in a completely new place. The increase could also be due in part to the fact that as students get older and gain social power, whether officially or unofficially, some may see that newfound power as a means to abuse people who don’t enjoy their same social standing. There’s a persistent cultural meme in campuses around the country that as men on campus get older, that is going to automatically equate to more sex with women, especially young women just entering school. This attitude is alive and well at Dartmouth (See: The Dartmouth X) and perpetuates the entitlement of many on our campus. 

Whatever the reasons may be for these troubling statistics, the reality is that this part of the year is an especially dangerous time to be on a college campus. As we contemplate a new school year and all the possibilities it may hold, we as a community need to take a step back and talk about assault. We need to talk about how we can look out for each other. Amid all the talk of Trips, joining new clubs and exciting new academic and social opportunities, there needs to be a sustained dialogue about the reality of this issue on our campus and on campuses nationwide, and how we can go about combating it. We as a college can’t let another year go by where 11 percent of undergraduate students (that would be 471 people at Dartmouth) experience rape through force, violence or incapacitation. We have a responsibility to go into this new year fostering a persistent and collaborative dialogue about one of the worst issues to plague this campus and many campuses across the country. Just because some people or institutions prefer not to talk about it, doesn’t mean that it’s going to go away.

The editorial board consists of the editor-in-chief, the publisher, both executive editors and the opinion editor.

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