by Devon Malick, guest writer
Two years ago, I conducted research on sexual assault and language at Warren Wilson College. I concluded that there were vast disparities between students’ definitions of sexual-language words (consent, harassment, assault, and rape). My research led me to determine that the differences in definitions correlated with differences in application of the terms, leading to a perpetuation of a rape culture1. Essentially, our campus was missing a clear, working definition. This year, another student studied the language on campus related to consent and how the application of ‘consent’ differed. She found that many students have definitions of consent that both match and are also congruent with our sexual assault policy, pointing to a positive shift in our campus culture. In the past two years, our campus’s knowledge of consent has improved. We seem to have a better understanding, but SEXUAL ASSAULTS ARE STILL HAPPENING.
So where is the problem and how do we fix it? There have been several initiatives on campus to talk about sex and sexual safety more openly. From 2010 to now, there are many more students walking around campus with ‘I Love Consent’ patches and ‘Consent is Sexy’ pins. Warren Wilson even offers a semester-long class that teaches advocacy and intervention tools to fight against sexual assault and interpersonal violence. However, these students walking around decorated in consent accessories and enrolled in this class are willing to participate in the discussion about consent mostly because they have been made previously aware to the intricacies of sexual violence on campus and they already utilize working notions of consent. The student who conducted her thesis this year on consent noted that one of her main limitations was that her interview respondents were already well-versed in consent and their responses did not reflect anonymous survey responses or the overarching culture that breeds at Warren Wilson College.
To fix the problem we need to find a way to expand our audience. We need to get people talking about consent who don’t usually, students who might not be exposed to the conversation as openly as others. We need to engage more men, more non-social science majors, and more people who have had no prior contact with RISE or similar campus groups2. First and foremost, I propose more required campus-wide workshops. Each work crew should require training on sexual harassment and consent each semester. Willing professors should open up their class schedules to include a lesson on social oppression related to their academic field and area of study. First year seminars should offer more comprehensive and in-depth sexual violence education. I also believe that Warren Wilson College should offer students more training in bystander intervention, a process that will better equip students to stand against acts of rape culture and violations of consent. Intervention training could be held every year or every semester and could be related to RISE-advocate training. These are of course only a few suggestions of possible campus-wide changes that could help resolve the issue of applying our knowledge of consent and sexual violence.
We as community members are lucky to be a part of a campus where our yearly reported sexual assault rates are in the single digits. We are lucky to have programs like RISE, Empower, and the counseling center who swing their doors open wide to anyone willing to talk about sexual assault or rape culture. Like the student’s research suggests, we are also lucky to have more and more students who can now recite our campus definition of consent. But the problem no longer lies in definition or discourse. The discussion is there. The problem that now needs to be addressed is the way community members choose to apply their definitions and how these actions affect our community. So, let’s do something about this application. LET’S END SEXUAL ASSAULT AT WARREN WILSON COLLEGE.