Tag Archives: feminism

Preventing Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Image credit: The Enliven Project http://theenlivenproject.com/
Image credit: The Enliven Project http://theenlivenproject.com/

Sexual assault* is being discussed publicly now more than ever, and with the president’s task force to combat on campus sexual assault as well as several lawsuits against universities under Title IX for mishandling sexual assault reports from students, the focus is more intense.  Sexual assault and gender-based violence as a whole is a public health crisis in the United States, and people are starting to notice.  It is amazing progress that people are starting to discuss sexual assault on facebook, among friends, and in major news outlets, and we need to keep that momentum going with concrete action.  While we need to work on prevention with people of all ages, including those in high school, the high rates and mobilization of activists on college campuses has brought that environment to the forefront.  For those colleges and universities looking to make a real difference, here is my advice on how to reduce sexual assault and its harmful effects on campus.

  • Train RAs in bystander intervention and receiving disclosures.  This will enable them to step in when they see an unsafe situation, and better prepare them if a student discloses to them that they have been assaulted.  Disclosure training helps a person understand the possible needs of a survivor**, how best to speak with them, which resources are available, and how to quickly ensure the safety of the survivor and connect them to resources, like medical advocates, SANE nurses, counseling, legal assistance, and university-related assistance.  If your school is in the Boston Area, get in touch with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) about their trainings.
  • Train campus security, police, health services, and any other personnel who are likely to receive disclosures.  Personnel should be well-versed in all the options and resources available to a survivor, the proper way to treat and speak to a survivor.
  • Have a dedicated office to prevent sexual violence.  This office should be staffed with people from the world of victim services and victim advocacy, and their professional guidance should be sought after and respected to improve university disciplinary and judicial practices, resources available to survivors, and campaigns to combat sexual assault.  They should have a reasonable budget and a high level of access to information and the ability to influence practices on campus.
  • Require all incoming freshmen to pass an exam on consent and resources, just as most universities require all incoming freshmen to pass an exam on alcohol and its effects.
  • Speaking of consent: update your definition in your code of conduct, judicial materials, on campus resources and the exam to reflect that all sexual acts are opt-in, not opt out.  Silence does not equal consent.  We should not be lowering the bar on consent but raising it, to enthusiastic consent.  Consenting once does not mean you consent forever, or even for the next five minutes; a person is entitled to change their mind at any time and have that respected.  Consenting to one person or to one sex act does not have any bearing on whether that person consents to any other sex act or to be with any other person, or even with that same person again.  Those who are intoxicated cannot consent.
  • Update your definition in your code of conduct, judicial materials, on campus resources and the exam to accurately reflect what sexual assault can look like, and update on campus attitudes about sexual assault as well.  Sexual assault does not have to involve a weapon or even violence.  All it takes is the threat of violence, and that threat can be communicated non-verbally.  It is sexual assault to coerce a person into sex, whether by quid pro quo, verbal threats, or merely persisting until a no becomes a yes or silence.  Silence is not consent; a coerced yes is not really a yes.
  • Work with other universities to establish best practices, like the upcoming conference Dartmouth is hosting this summer.  There should be representation of victims’ rights advocates, medical advocates, law enforcement, and survivors at that conference to give their valuable input.  That input needs to be prioritized over other concerns like the reputations of colleges or the financial cost of these measures.  That Title IX money isn’t for free.
  • Report all data as required by the Clery Act in a timely and accurate manner.  Sadly, not all schools are living up to this law.  We all have a right to know about the rate of sexual assaults on campus, and it is illegal for universities to alter or delay the data.
  • Cooperate fully with law enforcement and legal entities if the survivor chooses to seek legal action such as prosecution or a restraining order.  Many universities have not been cooperative in the past, or have attempted to keep assaults from reaching law enforcement in an attempt to protect their own reputation.  This is reprehensible.
  • Offer the survivor all options available to them, and let them decide.  Do not tell them it will make their life miserable or no one will believe them, or that it would be better for everyone if they just let it go or took time off.  Do not attempt to coerce or influence them in any way.  Sadly many universities have done this in the past (and likely still do this) in order to protect their reputation, and several are currently being sued under Title IX for this exact problem.
  • Make campus safe for the survivor as quickly as possible.  This can include anything from moving the attacker to different housing, switching the attacker’s classes, to suspending or expelling them from campus.  The attacked should be the one whose life has to change to accommodate the health and safety of the survivor, not the other way around, and these changes need to happen swiftly.
  • Do not turn a sexual assault into a “teaching moment” for the perpetrator.  Their rights are not more important than the rights of the person they violated.  While the percentage of men who commit sexual assault is quite low, two-thirds of those who do commit the crime on college campuses do so almost six times on average. David Lisak’s research shows that undetected rapists, “plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically.”  This is not an issue of mere misunderstanding, contrary to the implications of the term “date rape.”  The university punishment for sexual assault should be at least as harsh as punishments for underage drinking, drug possession, hazing, and non-sexual violence.  At many schools this is not the case and perpetrators, even when found at fault, get off with a slap on the wrist.
Image credit: The Enliven Project http://theenlivenproject.com/
Image credit: The Enliven Project http://theenlivenproject.com/

Other, less concrete actions are also necessary.  Colleges and universities need to recognize other behavior on the continuum of gender- and sexuality-based violence and get proactive, such as by ridding their campuses of sexual harassment, street harassment, and misogynist events or attitudes on campus.  Students and on-campus groups should not be allowed to make shirts depicting women as pigs on a spit, or gather in groups to chant degrading things at women.  A community that does not tolerate degrading behavior that is considered non-violent is a less welcoming place for perpetrators. Moreover, a community that fosters open discussion on these issues, such as in town hall meetings, student and faculty senates, school publications, and by hosting relevant on-campus events is a community that actively wants to improve safety for all of its members.

We are a long way from eradicating this crime and its widespread affects, but if we want to get serious about ending sexual assault, it’s time we focus on all aspects of this public health epidemic and get down to business.  Universities have at times been progressive leaders in this country, on the cutting edge of doing the right thing.  It’s time they live up to that reputation and prioritize the people within their communities over alumni donations and their reputation.  Personally, I think universities that take effective, proactive measures will be rewarded, as our culture has recently shown that we are no longer willing to ignore this crisis.

What measures have I forgotten to include?  Do you know of any campuses doing a particularly good job, in one area or another?

*I use the terms sexual assault here to encompass all manner of sexual crimes, including rape.  Personally I find the distinction between whether someone penetrated a person while they performed sex acts on them without their permission to be an artificial one, used by antagonizes (and survivors themselves) to attempt to downplay the serious nature of the crime. 

**I use the term survivor where most newspapers, universities, and lay people would use the term victim.  It comes from the community of people who have experienced these crimes and those who advocate for them.  There is already enough dis-empowering messaging in discussions of sexual assault, making the empowering term “survivor” preferable.  A victim is a passive person in a crime.  A survivor is someone who has actively striven to make it through something horrific, which is an accurate depiction of every survivor I’ve ever met, and more accurately reflects the on-going nature of recovery.  Not everyone self-identifies with this term and it is best to honor their wishes on an individual basis, but when speaking in broad terms I prefer to use the term survivor. 


HerCampusNU and Spreading the Word About the DR

Sometime last year, I read a few articles on HerCampus.com, a website dedicated to (and written by) college women all over the country.  Started by three Harvard women, it has an especially strong presence in the Boston area and a vibrant NU chapter.  Earlier this summer, in a fit of boredom, I investigated how to write for them and threw my name in the ring by applying online (which is a quick process, click here if you’re interested in writing for your school.)

One of my favorite photos from the article

While I have yet to meet all of the HerCampusNU ladies (with the exception of Christiana, who was with me in the DR this past summer), they’ve been incredibly welcoming and encouraging.  We communicate via email, googlegroup and facebook, and they’ve all been nothing but sweet.  I was surprised by how excited I was this morning to check out our first issue of this fall, but it looks awesome.  I was even more surprised to see that my article on thrifting in Boston was posted, since I had never written for them before and they have limited space.  To make my morning even better, a photo essay from Christiana and my time in the Dominican Republic was posted, including a link for donation and more information on our cause.

When I first looked at HerCampus, I’ll admit I thought it was going to be pretty superficial, all about boys and hookups and makeups and things that straight, white, upper-middle class girls like.  But as I explored, I found that they profile women entrepreneurs, and regularly post articles helping women spend more consciously, be more green in their daily lives, or get more involved on campus and in their community.  I’m pleased that there’s a place online where you don’t have to pick between being a clotheshorse and helping the environment, shopping and raising money for breast cancer, gossiping about boys and formulating your career.  Many spaces on the internet only care about presenting women one way, whether that be as shallow consumers or man-hating feminists, and neither portrayal is fair or accurate.

I’m really glad that HerCampus supports causes like Esperanza International and our time in the DR, and that we have the freedom to post on the issues that really matter to us, regardless of whether they’re about coordinating a handbag or (trying to) save the world.

The Secret Can Shove It

Here’s a great link on the dangers of la-la positive thinking, as demonstrated by Eat, Pray, Love and a great feminist take on the whole thing.  Thinking positive is good, but the philosophy only works if you’re already a person of privilege.  White, western, educated women can think their way to a positive, successful life because by and large, they already have it.  Your parents worked for it, your country paved the way for it, and your skin color certainly didn’t hurt.

But what about people with (and I hesitate to say this, but it seems necessary) real problems?  Hungry people can certainly stay upbeat and do the best they can, but that won’t make them less hungry.

It is the complacent who let themselves be oppressed, which is one of the better arguments for why dictators should bother to feed their people.  Keep ’em fat, happy and reading the Secret and suddenly their problems either don’t exist or are solely their fault.

Not to be ridiculous, but the Holocaust didn’t happen because Jews were pessimistic or cranky.  People don’t have cancer relapses because they stopped writing in their daily affirmation journals.  Louisiana and much of Southeast Asia could absolutely not have used positive thinking to clean up after a natural disaster.  They used their damn hands.  Should you count your blessings?  Of course.  But the mindset that all things can be fixed with positive thinking also implies that the opposite is true: people with problems should have fixed them with optimism and “positive energy”.

And in case you’re in a sleepy haze of dreaming your way to health, wealth and happiness, here’s something to get angry about.

Veil Vocabulary

I know it can be overwhelming as an outsider to understand all that is going on with Muslim women’s clothing, so here’s a little glossary to get you started.  If anybody has additional terms or corrections, let me know!


(1)this is the most basic piece, and is a scarf worn around the head.  Accompanying this can be skull caps, pre-style pieces etc., sometimes in ornate styles or coordinatng colors.  The face is fully visible, but the hair and neck are not (if it’s styled correctly).

(2) Hijab is also the concept of overall modesty.  Often you will heasr women refer to their overall modest mode of vestments as “my hijab.”  For men, hijab is the belly button to the knee.  For women, it’s open for debate but is generally considered to the ankles and wrists, with covered hair.


This is the “hood” that covers the whole face and leaves eye-slits.  It often comes down to the middle of the upper arm, and is worn with an abaya.  Another version just covers the front of the face, and can be tied on before a hijab

Chador (sometimes called chador namaz):

This is a one-piece that covers the hair down to the ankles, but leaves the face exposed.

Mantau chalvar:

With mantau coming from the French manteau, this is basically a knee-length coat worn over loose pants and accompanied by a hijab


This is the basic dress-like garment that is warn over clothing.  Depending on the crowd you’re with, many women will take off their various outer garments when alone with each other.


The oft-discussed garment is a head-to-toe covering, often accompanied by elbow-length gloves.  It has a full-face veil built in, often with mesh over the eyes for viewing/protecting purposes.


Many women, regardless of whcih level of modesty and ornamentation they prefer, add other bits as well.  These can include gloves, additional neck/collar bone covering, the skull cap to insure that if a hijab comes loose nothing will show, and little coverings (perhaps tights?) for feet, so that ballet flats may be worn without exposing skin.

In Egypt, I saw many garments that combined a few of these together.  There are also great variations–in some countries or neighborhoods (the Gulf, anywhere that tends to be more conservative and more poor) will feature more covering, and darker garments with little to know ornamentation.  In Egypt on the other hand, there were hijab-friendly bathing suits, sparkles on everything, and skin-tight long-sleeved shirts with revealing shirts over them.  There are also numerous fashion lines and shows for hijab-friendly customers.

Buen Dia de las Mujeres

Today is Women’s Day, something I honestly had never heard of until Maria’s breakfast rant today.  We’ve been getting “felicitaciones” all day from men walking past us, and even some freshly picked flowers.  What exactly are we being congratulated for, though?  Being born female instead of male?  Opting not to switch genders (which is covered by Cuban health care, by the way)?  Although I must say, the more time I spend here, the more I think of being a Cubana as an accomplishment of some kind.

“Are you a woman, or a book?”
-Leonardo, Cecilia

“A woman can bear anything but curiosity”

“You can fix the worst things here with drums and beer”
-Rachel, La Bella del Alhambre

“A woman in politics is like a man in the kitchen”

“You want to take care of all the problems in the world, but what about your husband and house?”
Retrato de Teresa

“It is good to have what you do acknowledged.”
Retrato de Teresa

“Because I’m the man of the house, forget about your little job.”
Retrato de Teresa

“There’s one law for women and another law for men.”
Retrato de Teresa

“But I’m a man, it’s different!”
Retrato de Teresa

“Learn to clench your teeth…like your mama did.”
-Teresa’s mother, after admonishing her daughter for wanting equality, Retrato de Teresa

“I don’t care what they say, a woman is a woman and a man is a man.  Not even Fidel can change that.”
-Teresa’s mother, Retrato de Teresa

“Your husband and children aren’t enough, you always wanted to be you, too”
Teresa’s husband, Retrato de Teresa

“If I look for her again, I’m not a man.”
Fresa y chocolate

“There are functions for men and functions for women.  This is not the function of women.”
-Hector Perez, speaking of women and tambores (playing the religious drums)

“What are you doing to celebrate Women’s Day?”
“Working, of course.”

And I leave you with this, from Brittan:
“But when is Men’s Day?”


Definition: a female of western origins. She can come in any color, and may be from Europe, Canada, the US, Australia or any other country considered to be the West.

It’s a weird fact of life here, but if you’re a gringa, you have a Cubano. Other than the women in this apartment (and some at the Burlington program), every gringa we’ve met so far has come with a Cuban man in tow. Or more often, the other way around. I wonder how genuine these relationships are, on both ends.

How are the women not more skeptical? Don’t they know what will happen when the next pack of Americans come? We’ve seen that happen firsthand. What about all the money that comes into play? It’s hard for a woman to feel wooed if she pays for absolutely everything, including frivolous things they don’t partake in, or stuff for their guy’s friends.  And I know I know, guys often pay for everything in the states, so this could be a small bit of justice.  But it’s still a very real cultural difference that can be jarring.

What about the obvious elephant in the room, the green card? How does she shake the feeling he wants one, and how does he shake the feeling she could get him one?

How are the men not more skeptical? It oddly reminds me of Dirty Dancing, when The Swayze tells Ferris Bueller’s sister how hard it is to say no to the rich, beautiful fancy women who slip diamonds in his pockets. He knows that next week he may be eating skittles for breakfast, so how can he say no? But he still realizes he’s being used, because next week he’s eating those skittles and they’re back in the city spending their husband’s money.

I don’t have any answers on this one, but we see it so often that it gets at me.

The Hillary List

Lately, there has been many a rumble in lady-land.  I have been reminded again and again that there are certain rules that should never be broken by people who are any combination of a) female, b) in authority, or c) driven, straightforward and intelligent.  I have come to think of this, aptly, as the Hillary List.  Love her or hate her, we’re all going to be treated like her, so we may as well learn a lesson or two.

  1. Everything you do will be subject to far more scrutiny.  Rather than complaining, accept it and adjust accordingly.
  2. Never let them see you cry.  This is imperative. See: Sex and the City
  3. If you lose it, everything you say will be discredited.  You’ve just given them an excuse to do what they already wanted to.
  4. Know when to hold em, when to fold em, and when to walk away.
  5. Own shoes that are comfy and shoes that are sexy.  Know when to use which ones.  Bonus points if they are in fact the same pair
  6. You will be called a bitch.  You can’t stop it, so don’t try.  Just deal with it, and see #2.
  7. Blow sunshine up their ass.  This is great advice from my mother
  8. Also from my mother: if you ever need to get out of something, bodily functions are an excellent excuse.  No one will want to chat about your period, and you simply can’t argue with the runs.
  9. Follow the rules.  You can get away with a lot if you stay within the lines, especially if it’s not that big of a deal for you to do so.
  10. Be cautious about who you trust, or: don’t air dirty laundry in public.  You don’t want to be considered a gossip, and many females will actually go out of their way to make you look bad.  Think very carefully about what you are saying (and to whom) before you speak.  Even if you disagree with something, be careful who you air that disagreement with.  Nobody likes someone who complains about their own team/boss/friends/whatever to people who aren’t involved

Break these rules at your own peril.  And remember, sometimes you just have to settle for Secretary of State.

Originally posted Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 10:01 PM