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T W: This article contains discussions of violence and touches on things such as sexual assault, guns and violence in other forms.

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “violence at Penn”?

Many of us think of interpersonal physical violence that occurs around our school, such as gun violence and theft. Others think about the forms of violence Penn students commit against one another, such as physical altercations and sexual assault. While these things, along with a variety of other person-to-person acts, certainly constitute violence and are forms of real harm, they do not paint a complete picture of violence at Penn. These individual moments of violence are symptoms of much larger violent systems that Penn has a stake in.

We must constantly bring ourselves to stop and consider what structural forms of violence are behind those interpersonal acts described above. When we get a UPennAlert notification about a robbery on or near campus, we must stop and consider what role Penn itself may have played in that situation. We must move beyond calling the act of robbing a store or taking someone’s money “violent.” We must also use this term to refer to Penn’s role in the gentrification of West Philadelphia through the expansion of our university, which forces families out of their homes and perpetuates intergenerational poverty. Poverty combines with systematic racism, leading people to commit these crimes of survival.

Similarly, when we discuss sexual assault, it is just as vital to talk about the systematic misogyny and devaluing of women as it is to talk about the individual offender. We cannot effectively work toward women’s liberation and fight violence against women if we don’t question the practices and policies of certain all-male Penn organizations that keep that culture of misogyny alive and well.

As Penn students, we must come to the realization that no matter what we do, we are complicit in these forms of structural and systematic violence. Penn has a lot of money invested in companies and organizations that perpetuate these forms of violence. As long as we are paying tuition and other expenses at this school, we remain complicit. So what can we do?

We can choose to speak out against this in both big and small ways. One method is to make a call for Penn to change its spending and investment practices by divesting from companies that have big stakes in perpetuating that violence. Movements like these have been effective at other schools, and they could also be effective here. But on a smaller scale, as individuals, a great first step is to talk more openly and frankly about violence.

We must not only recognize a punch in the face as violent, but also the racist remarks that sparked the altercation, which work to uphold hundreds of years of white supremacy.

Instead of being scared to walk west of campus for fear of “violence,” we must repurpose that word to describe our own prejudices and the often racist ways that we characterize residents of Philadelphia who aren’t students.

Those who are quick to call rocket launches from Gaza “violent” must also work to understand the violence of displacement and decades of settler colonialism, restricted movement and denial of resources.

Some may argue that opening up the term “violence” to include these types of structures may take away the value and importance of the word. It’s true that changing when we do and do not use a certain word can drastically change its meaning. However, not calling these structures “violent” is currently doing the work of allowing us to separate them from the harm that they are causing.

This reframing of violence is vital. It is an extremely daunting and difficult task, but we must try to work through our discomfort and not remain silent about Penn’s roles in perpetuating violent systems. In the classroom, through our art, through social media, through solidarity with grassroots movements, through where we spend our money and particularly through the type of work that we choose to engage in after we leave Penn, we have the power to make real cha nge.

Roderick Cook is a College junior from Nesquehoning, Pa., studying  gender, sexuality and women’s studies. Their email address is “What’s the T?” appears every other Thursday.

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