Davidson President Carol Quillen is right: there is no one solution held by any one group or individual in addressing sexual assault on campus. She is mostly right in saying values crash into each other during campus adjudication, a difficult process and a thankless job. Her theories about the gendered scripts of sex, the role of alcohol, and the dearth of consistent and universally available sex education are spot on.
Her implicit stipulation that students are not doing enough, however, and that the administration is doing so much is misleading, dismissive, and offers the administration and institution a pass they do not deserve. Her article rotates on an axis of pushing for communal responsibility. “Changing this culture and the assumptions about sex and gender that maintain it will take time and college students themselves... will participate.”
We will participate? Each of the programs President Quillen credits the institution with are largely student-driven efforts. Bystander training? Students are at least half of every facilitation team. Vocal, more helpful survivor advocacy? This largely happens in updating standard operating procedures for “dealing with” survivors of assault, and those updates have been deeply influenced, nuanced and pushed by students. Clearer mechanisms for perpetrator accountability? We still have a man arrested for sexual battery on the baseball team despite calls to suspend him for the duration of his criminal proceedings. Is someone only worth interim measures (meant to foster campus security during campus’s adjudication process) if the school’s process is triggered? What about the precedent set by immediate suspension from athletic teams for other arrests? Students are ready, willing to, and already having this conversation.
In most cases, student efforts to change campus culture or policy have been met with responses that, if we’re lucky, include why the school cannot move forward in that direction or a non-response that pushes responsibility back to the students themselves (e.g.: it’s your campus, we encourage you to go be the gamechangers you wish to see in the world!). Rather than engage with the highly informed, highly motivated experts of student culture, the administration more often than not “listens” without engaging in discourse that could lead to viable solutions.
This would be understandable from adults and legal scholars if they were not simultaneously demanding more from students. President Quillen failed to mention how unhelpful, infantilizing administrative responses are stymieing: fraternities’ efforts to institute accountability mechanisms, women’s social organizations’ efforts to maintain sovereignty over their social spaces, creation of a policy that would truly empower students to help enforce sanctions handed down to perpetrators found responsible and end the underground exchange of names that ends up hurting as many as it protects.
Trust me: a critical mass of students cares deeply about changing the culture, but our efforts can only go so far when broader institutional mechanisms refuse to respond. It is our bodies, reputations and lives on the line. We already “grapple intellectually” with each other, and try to do so with you. We already negotiate pragmatic cultural and individual progress in the constraints of still largely outdated practices. We are there; it’s you who needs to join us. We have been extending the invitation for years. It is you who hasn’t meaningfully engaged.
Driscoll is a senior at Davidson College. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org