By the second week of freshman year, we have all learned to avoid the Compass in the center of Locust Walk. Everyone who has been on an Admissions tour or paid attention during any NSO event knows that stepping on the Compass prior to midterm week guarantees a failed first midterm. During my freshman fall, I abided by this rule until one mid-September day when I forgot, but I wasn’t too concerned. From the start, I thought it was nothing more than a harmless tradition. And, in truth, it wasn’t—for me, at least.
When I found out that the Compass myth was created by frat guys to identify freshman girls, I didn’t know what to say. I was stunned and outraged, but I literally didn’t have the vocabulary to respond. As a senior, I now know that rape culture perpetuates sexual assault and harassment on college campuses, and that unfortunately Penn is no exception. The notion that Penn guys will be Penn guys—and that Penn “ladies” should either ignore them or make adjustments to fit the resulting college landscape—is one that enables many onlookers to trivialize the severity and prevalence of sexual assault on campus.
I want to encourage every Penn guy out there to not be Freshman Peter. Freshman Peter took comfort in assuming someone else—someone with more Facebook friends or Penn social clout—would speak up. Freshman Peter assumed that his voice wouldn’t make a difference, that he wouldn’t acquire the sufficient knowledge and vocabulary until becoming magically relevant at some point between sophomore and junior year. I wish I’d known about on-campus groups like MARS (Men Against Rape & Sexual Assault) and PAVE (Penn Anti-Violence Educators) that are committed to using peer-education to inform bystanders and combat sexual violence. I wish I’d taken more courses in the Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies Program, even though they were initially out of my comfort zone. Most of all, I wish I’d realized just how important it was—and is—to be an active bystander, to consciously look out for friends as well as strangers.
It is important to emphasize that there is so much good happening at Penn. On the whole, we are a collection of motivated, intelligent, and well-intentioned students. But we live in a rape culture, one that protects privileged rapists like Brock Turner from the “severe impact” of long-term prison sentences when it should be protecting the already severely impacted survivors. We live in a culture that encourages women to wear tight clothing and get drunk, while objectifying and disrespecting women who do, a culture that makes sweeping generalizations about women, but is quick to say, “#NotAllMen!” We live in a culture in which consent must be “sexy” before it is considered acceptable. And speaking of men, we live in a culture that expects men to be impervious to perpetrators of sexual violence, and labels them as weak when they are not.
These are not nonviolent antics. These are not funny jokes. When we men perpetuate the need to have a “good ratio” to get into a frat party, when we assume the appearance or actions of survivors led to their assaults, we are feeding an aggressively sexist and harmful culture. How long will we as a community of onlookers continue to respond insufficiently? How many fliers will it take?
Sexual assault and harassment occur across social groups and scenes at Penn, so we need to come together as a Penn community to create a long-term workable solution. We need to view this week’s unveiling of the flagrantly sexist OZ email as the continuation of a conversation, not an isolated act. We need to come together so we can truly leave Penn better than we found it.
Peter LaBerge is a senior in the college from Stamford, C.T.Comments powered by Disqus
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