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Accountability for sexual violence shouldn’t be limited to SJP

By Thresher Editorial Board     10/1/19 10:53pm

Content warning: This opinion piece contains references to sexual assault. 

The anonymous opinion published in last week’s Thresher has prompted hundreds of students to demand change from administration. We all witnessed expressions of anger and protests around campus, which prompted an administrative apology at the end of last week. While the anger aimed at the administration is deserved, we believe that there are layers of accountability to this issue. Rice has failed survivors in more than one instance, and the responsibility to fix our culture falls on our entire community. 

Critical Thinking In Sexuality

At Rice, students’ education about sexual violence essentially ends when CTIS concludes during the first semester of freshman year. CTIS implies questioning and pushing oneself beyond a basic understanding of sexuality, so that we may apply this thinking to interactions with others. But CTIS is limited to a basic understanding of textbook definitions of consent. 

CTIS has the potential to demand more of students: to have them analyze how even the smallest actions can perpetuate a culture of sexual violence and consider how complex histories and factors affect identity, gender roles and the overall structure of society. Rice students are supposed to be some of the brightest students in the nation. We shouldn’t have to rely on survivors’ testimony — forcing them to relive and relay trauma — to motivate us to think about and empathize with issues of sexual assault. We hold ourselves to extremely high standards in the classroom, and we should hold ourselves to equally high standards for understanding and navigating the world through the critical lens of the culture of sexual violence we all live in. 

Magisters + A-Team

The responsibility to protect the Rice community does not fall on the administration alone. A-Teams at each residential college have been selected to care for their specific community. When the leadership allows the conversation surrounding sexual assault to go on without their input, they fail to care for their students. When college A-Teams continue activities as normal, they avoid the discomfort that comes with addressing sexual assault. Silence leaves vulnerable students to struggle by themselves, ignoring survivors who deserve a comprehensive response from their college leadership. An immediate response to the visceral reaction and difficult discussions happening in the student body would have demonstrated the A-Team’s commitment to providing a safe and caring environment for their students. In many colleges, student initiatives such as Students Transforming Rice into a Violence-Free Environment liaisons, Rice Health Advisors and college presidents were made to fill in the gap between administrative silence and student uproar. The populations of each residential college and the survivors among them deserve better than that. 

Administration’s relationship with college leadership

On Thursday night last week, the administration called a meeting with magisters, college presidents and STRIVE liaisons. Instead of immediately calling a town hall to ask survivors for their perspective, the administration decided to have a meeting behind closed doors, and survivors were the last to be brought in, four days later. They were only given a one-hour town hall. The onus for student outreach should not be solely placed on college presidents and STRIVE liasions. It’s the easiest way to not actually have to do any work. Student leaders should not have to talk for survivors. Survivors are strong; they can speak for themselves. So give them space, more than a singular hour, to talk, and actually listen.

You — the Rice community

For those of you who are shocked by the opinion, you shouldn’t be. Now that you’ve heard the outpouring of outrage and pain from your peers, connect the dots: Sexual assault is not rare. It will not disappear from our minds in the coming weeks as it will disappear from social media. It will never be old news because women are conditioned to expect sexual assault. Especially on campus, students must repeatedly confront sexual violence on a daily basis even in spaces that claim to be safe. On a campus that supposedly upholds a Culture of Care, why is it that survivors are denied the compassion and protection that their perpetrators so readily receive? It is not an overstatement to say that virtually every person on campus has either experienced sexual assault or knows someone else who has. So, why is it that we do not believe survivors, our friends and classmates, when they come forward? 

While administrative policies are also integral, holding your friends accountable for their actions is the first step. If it’s shocking to you that so many Rice students are assaulted, maybe it’s more shocking that when you take a look around at your peers and yourself, those are the assaulters. It’s easy to get angry at someone else and  point fingers and say THEY should do better. And it’s true, they should. But your fellow students’ rapists, assailants and molesters are also your friends, the people you stroll through serveries with everyday, the people you complain about homework with. It’s hard to take accountability for the ways you’ve dismissed survivors. It’s harder to take a step back, realize you’re not exempt because you consider yourself a feminist and accept that you might have been someone’s assaulter. We see the posts, the comments, the likes, the Instagram stories. But they don’t mean anything when you continue to be complicit.  If it doesn’t put you in a dangerous situation, step up when you see someone who is visibly uncomfortable. What’s going to be more important — your fear that it’s going to be awkward or their lifelong trauma? Hold your friends accountable. Hold yourself accountable. You are not exempt after this week. 

Editor-in-Chief Christina Tan and Managing Editor Anna Ta recused themselves from this editorial due to their involvement in reporting on this issue.

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