Dodging flyers, avoiding eye contact and navigating hoards of people — these are problems we expect to face on Locust Walk.

Racism and sexual assault — not so much.

On Sept. 28, Dephanie Jao, a second-year Graduate School of Education student, was allegedly approached by three women and two men claiming to be Drexel students on a scavenger hunt. The students were supposed to hook up with three Asians and even tried to achieve this goal by force.

Jao chronicled the event in a column, “Hunting for Asians,” this month (11/01/12). While we were humbled that Jao chose the Daily Pennsylvanian to tell her story, we were troubled by commenters on her article who displayed ignorant views.

Most reactions to Jao’s incident have focused exclusively on the racial aspects of the encounter. However, the lack of consent also casts this event as a sexual assault.

It’s easy to feel removed from incidents like these. As Jao said in her column, these things are “never supposed to happen to you.” But Jao’s encounter happened on Locust Walk around 9:40 p.m. Sexual assaults happen to one in four college women in the United States.

Jao should never have had to write a column because this event should never have happened. But now that it has, we hope her story will provoke a larger dialogue on campus.

The Asian Pacific Student Coalition and the United Minorities Council have led the response to this incident thus far. They’re organizing a workshop and opening spaces on campus for others to share similar stories.

But racial discrimination and sexual assault will persist on Penn’s campus until there is a cultural shift. This movement will only succeed if it goes beyond special-interest groups to engage a critical mass of students.

We cannot commend Jao enough for her courage. Imagine the time in your life when you were most vulnerable. Now imagine trusting a newspaper to publish your story, convey your feelings and share that experience with thousands of strangers.

It’s important that stories like Jao’s are brought to the forefront of the community. Besides her, there are dozens of others who are never mentioned. Not everyone who encounters racism or sexual assault may feel comfortable voicing their story, but those that do help educate the community.

These are two big issues that we as a community must address. So keep talking about it, keep acknowledging similar incidents, keep informing yourself. And above all, speak out. Whether by sharing a personal story or by educating others — we must raise the level of dialogue and concern on this campus.

You can determine how Jao’s story is remembered. Whether it remains as words on a page or is translated into action. Whether it represents one example of the same old thing or the last time a student feels victimized on Locust Walk.

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