Speaking out against injustice: how members of the UC community combat rape culture on campus

Elizabeth Hilt, left, and Jessica Oros, right, recently represented Ursinus at RespectCon in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hilt.

Students, faculty and staff talk about the importance of creating a safe campus during Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sienna Coleman

sicoleman@ursinus.edu

Did you know that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month? Last weekend, Jessica Oros, Ursinus’ prevention and advocacy educator, and junior Elizabeth Hilt, the prevention education advocate for the peer advocates, traveled to RespectCon at Emory University in Atlanta.

Hilt explained that the conference “looks at sexual assault prevention and education through a social justice lens.”

“Many of the speakers [at the conference] sought to ground sexual violence in the history of our patriarchal society with an emphasis on race and intersectionality,” Hilt said. “In addition, they taught effective ways to unearth the root of these social justice issues in order to address and combat them on college campuses.”

Oros added that the conference reminded her to always be aware of intersectionality—the interconnection of race, class, gender and other identifiers, and their relation to oppression and domination—and that “when we … strive to serve those on the margins of society, no one gets left behind.”

According Ursinus’ Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, 5 sex offenses were reported on campus in 2013, 9 offenses were reported in 2014 and 19 offenses were reported in 2015.  It’s important to note that these numbers reflect an increase in reporting of offenses, not necessarily an increase in offenses themselves.

The report also states that “Ursinus is one of the safest campuses in the nation” and explains the many resources we have on campus for safety and prevention: “Safety Officers perform comprehensive and frequent patrols, respond quickly to safety problems … Personal safety escorts are available 24 hours a day.”

The report further states that “Ursinus College considers sexual misconduct to include assault, harassment, stalking, and relationship violence of a sexual nature” and that “College Community members have the right to be free from all forms of sexual and/or gender-based harassment and violence.”

“The College has zero tolerance for sexual and/or gender-based misconduct,” the report says.

In addition to Campus Safety, we also have the Peer Advocates who work to educate the Ursinus community about the issue of sexual misconduct and to support those who are personally dealing with an issue of sexual misconduct.

“Social norms shape and influence individual behavior including violence. A report by the World Health Organization in 2002 showed that cultural acceptance of violence, as a typical means to resolve conflict or as a part of raising your child, is a risk factor for interpersonal violence,” Oros explained via email. “We live in a society were violence is very commonplace, both currently and throughout our history.”

Oros explained that our society tends to trivialize sexual assault or place blame on victims and survivors, a social pattern often referred to as ‘rape culture.’ This mindset is often perpetuated through mainstream media and advertising.

“It can be seen in the music we listen to, the ads in magazines, jokes told about rape, and the TV [and] movies we consume,” Oros said. “Rape culture perpetuates the stigmas placed on survivors and then hold survivors accountable for something done to them.”

Katie Turek, assistant director of UCARE, believes that there needs to be a broad cultural change in the way we talk about sexual assault.

“Individuals who disclose their experience being sexually assaulted are taking a big step in talking about it, and our response should be one of listening, caring, and ensuring they feel safe.  I am proud that we as a community can embrace dialogue on this issue and take steps to educate ourselves,” she added.

Oros and Turek both believe that as a community, we have the power to shape our society and to keep each other safe.

Oros said that teachable moments occur in everyday conversation.

“More people need to feel empowered to speak out when they hear something disrespectful and be able to explain why it was disrespectful to the person who is making the comment,” she said.

Oros is also optimistic about the awareness that she has seen on campus, especially among student leaders who are passionate about making change. She is also confident in the supportive environment Ursinus provides for enacting more programs to help educate the community about these issues.

“I would also encourage others to read about the issue with an open mind,” she said.

According to Hilt, awareness and safety on this campus start with the Ursinus community.

“Listen to one another, hold each other accountable, and question the social norms we’ve established as a campus community [in order] to eradicate them,” she said.