I spent my winter break thinking. One of the subjects I constantly found myself coming back to was the problem of sexual assault in our nation, specifically on college campuses around the country. I really began diving into this back in October, when footage of the current U.S. president surfaced before the election. In the video, he discussed using his fame to force himself on women, and made comments about performing sexual actions on women without receiving consent from them. This subject continued to be in the forefront of my mind throughout the remainder of the semester, before the sexual assault case involving the University of Minnesota Gophers football team started to circulate around social media and national news outlets.
In reading reports about the case, I became thoroughly disgusted by the actions of some of the players on the Gophers team. This drove me to begin thinking about other sexual assault cases that have surfaced over the years. The recent Baylor University football case comes to mind, where a current lawsuit alleges that there were 52 rapes committed by football players at the school in just four years, and that a “show ‘em a good time” (Elizabeth Doe v. Baylor University) policy used sex to market the football experience to recruits. One of the attackers named in the lawsuit, Shamycheal Chatman, had already been accused of rape. This case involved a student trainer, whom Chatman allegedly raped at his off-campus apartment. Instead of investigating the incident, the school chose to move the trainer to another sports team and agreed to pay for her education, and in exchange the trainer had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Or take a look at the case against former Florida State and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston. A woman who accused him of sexual assault reported the incident to the police, and was met with this response from a Tallahassee police officer: “This is a huge football town, you really should think long and hard about whether you want to press charges or not.” After they received word of the alleged assault, the Tallahassee Police Department refused to run DNA tests on Winston until after the story broke to the national media, a year after the victim reported. Instead of sympathy, the victim was met with scrutiny. Fans across the country threatened her, and television show hosts questioned the validity of her statement. Even after DNA from her rape kit was matched with the sample Jameis Winston provided, the Florida State attorney chose not to file charges.
How did we get here? These incidents of sexual assault and, in some cases, their cover-ups, reveal a lot about the state of our nation as a whole. Our nation is indeed fostering a culture where rape is absolutely accepted. Sexual assault survivors are silenced so that athletes can compete in their intercollegiate and professional competitions. We have elected a president who openly admitted to forcing himself upon women. Anyone who does not think that this is a problem is wrong. Any other thinking on this issue merely helps rape culture continue to thrive.
So how do we stop this epidemic from spreading? I think we can do a couple of things. We have to educate others about how big of a problem this is. People have to know about this issue. People have to know that over a five-year stay, a college woman’s likelihood of experiencing a sexual assault or an attempted sexual assault is between one-in-four and one-in-five. People have to know that one-in-three women and one-in-six men will likely experience some form of sexual assault before the age of 18. People have to know.
The other thing we have to do is be proactive citizens. I am a football player at Macalester, and one of the themes we have in our program is “GBC” or “great by choice.” In other words, we should choose to be great in all aspects of life; be great in the classroom, in our relationships with the people around us, in our athletic pursuits. This is a theme that everyone can appreciate, and it is something that applies to this situation very well. All of us here at Macalester have gone through some sort of bystander training, and have been educated about the prevalence of sexual assault across the nation. Now we just have to effectively put our training and education to use in our daily lives.
This is something that I think our campus struggles with. We as a campus are not always great at stepping in and intervening when we see something suspicious happening. In these instances, we have to choose to be great, and choose to be courageous enough to stand up for people who find themselves in dangerous situations. This does not mean that I am perfect in situations like this. I, too, sometimes lack the courage to help someone that looks like they are uncomfortable at a party, or help someone that looks to be in trouble, because doing things like that are hard. Stepping in and standing up to someone is very, very hard. But this does not make it okay for me (or anyone) to allow harmful actions to take place. This just enables the spread of rape culture, and does exactly the opposite of what we are working for: eradicating rape culture.
In my two years here, we as a campus have emphasized the theme “Consent is Mac.” This is excellent. I wholeheartedly support this. However, I am not sure that we as a community have completely embraced this. Many students have, but there are others who have not. In order to eradicate rape culture, we have to start small. Specifically, we have to start with our campus. It truly is on us to stop sexual assault. We are the only people who see what happens outside of the classroom, and because of this we have to be the ones to make the change.
I feel that many people are pretty good about being active bystanders and intervening when something dangerous is about to happen. However, words like “pretty good” and “many” are not good enough in this instance. A sexual assault is something that has the power to change lives in horrific, negative ways. Pretty good is not acceptable. We have to be great. All of us. Macalester is considered a very progressive school, so let’s be progressive. Let’s not stand for anything less than great on this issue. Let’s lead the world forward, and not accept sexual assault in any form. Let’s choose to be great.