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Sunday, April 14, 2024 — Houston, TX

Students should be taught to be virtuous, respectful

By Sam Vallagomesa     9/10/14 5:44pm

As a student at Rice University, I have read message after message regarding sexual assault. It’s one of the most pervasive issues at this time in our lives and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving. The federal government, Rice’s administration, and the students and colleges have all made efforts to discuss and educate upon preventative measures, consequences and expectations, and make environments more hospitable to reporting and assessing sexual assault incidents. However, almost every discussion (and commentary on these discussions) presented has been handled with negative connotations regarding the solution to the problem. There is a clear leaning in the language used and solutions called for which suggests perpetrators of sexual assault are always going to do so and cannot be reasoned with. To combat the perceived onslaught of potential perpetrators, continual attention is given to the repercussions of sexual assault, with little consideration to the plethora of circumstances that lead up to assaults making their way into discussions on how to handle the problem.

Despite the attention that is being shown towards handling sexual assault, there are people who claim this preventative effort is not enough. They are justified in claiming it’s not enough, because there are still environments in which people feel unsafe. Thus, even with all the efforts being made, a recent opinion article called for a further emphasis on the consequences of sexual assault during talks at O-Week and other sexual assault free environment (SAFE) type trainings. This call for consequence would serve as a continual reminder amongst continual reminders of the powerful retribution that could result from having to deal with sexual assault. It would be an incessant bombardment of what all discussion has simplified into the single root cause of sexual assault: a lack of consequences to deter those whose sexual desire has overcome their reason. This simplification of people’s behavior is what is causing such fuss about the ongoing incidents of assault, because although there are consequences in place, we seem to frequently hear about sensationalized cases of sexual assault because they are so relevant to us. But people are not so simple. It is insulting to claim to engage in ‘dialogue’ at such a prestigious university without anyone having raised any other points of view to balance the discussion. That is why I am compelled to say that a call to consequence in the effort to fight ‘rape culture’ will never succeed without a call to virtue accompanying it, in just as strong a voice.

A ‘call to virtue’ is far more complex than it seems; the idea and its merits cannot be fully elaborated here. But to put it simply, virtue is a set of principles which constitute a high standard of behavior amongst individuals. To end sexual assault, the discussion should include the promotion of virtues which can provide a positive, empathetic outlook towards our fellow people. There is so much that goes into caring for other people, including respecting their boundaries, because everyone is different. Yet there are a few simple ideas that can be said here that are absent in most critiques of sexual misconduct I have observed.

The first idea is that despite what we see in the mainstream media (TV, movies, even books), people exist for things other than our personal pleasure. And although media may overtly suggest that hooking up with someone every weekend makes you cool and/or happy, that sentiment is not true, so you don’t need to force it. Exert patience. Sexuality is not something that needs to be pushed. Taking time in sexual endeavors and relationships is valuable; don’t rush your way through them. It may be that the member of the preferred sex you are pursuing will appreciate it all the more. Communicate with potential partners and give more love than you take. Understand the people you are going to engage with in sexual activity, so that you are on the same page.

As counterintuitive as exercising virtue is to hook-up culture, these (and more) may be the exact principles people need to hear to mitigate the selfishness of sexual assault. Thinking about love and hearing these bits of optimism may cause potential perpetrators who think about ‘how far they can get’ to instead exercise empathy. After all, people who are going to commit sexual assault, however inebriated or thoughtless at the time, are most likely aware that sexual assault is wrong and has consequences. People understand that when aggressors assault others, they are choosing to willfully ignore consequences. Let’s shift our thought and focus and see where it brings us.

Thoughts like these are an essential part of a solution to sexual assault. Understanding that people deserve all the love and care one would want for themselves is the hardest simple principle to be taught, but maybe the most worthwhile. There must be a balanced approach to these issues. Just like all of humanity’s complex problems, there are so many factors and conditions that affect every situation; there is never one answer. But a call to virtue may be part of the solution that everyone needs but no one will undertake. While I would much rather hear a call to virtue than a call to consequence, maybe that’s because I’m an optimist. Which would you rather hear?

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