The solution to sexual violence on college campuses, and in the world, isn’t just about how we educate our daughters, but how we educate our sons.
The shocking thing about the song “Rugby Road” is not just the atrocious lyrics. It’s also that young college men still feel comfortable writing new lyrics, and singing the song in public. The shocking aspect of the Phi Kappa Psi gang rape story is not just the alleged atrocious act itself. It’s also that someone contemplating premeditated rape in this decade might feel safe broaching the subject with his peers, and that his peers might not only allow it to happen, but also choose to participate.
Early in my first year as a UVA student, back in the autumn of 1982, one of my fellow suite-mates brought a female student back to his dorm room for (consensual) sex. The next morning while she was still asleep, he came out to use the bathroom, and reported to those of us in the central living area of the suite some of the specific acts that they performed, and then he went back in. This guy was not my friend, but I’d like to think he would have responded appropriately to someone telling him “no” on a date. However it seems clear to me at the very least that his parents sent him to UVA without the necessary sensitivity to act responsibly in this kind of situation, and without an appropriate amount of respect for his sexual partners, and women in general.
In spite of having been raised in a feminist household, and feeling uncomfortable in that situation, I did not say anything to him at the time, instead trying to ignore his comments. I must not have had the tools, awareness, or training to deal with the situation. But while I can’t go back and redo that moment knowing what I know now, I do still have one tool available to me that can make a difference. Two, actually. In addition to sending my daughters off to college, I’ll be helping to send two stepsons. Two boys who will have access to the countless private guys-only conversations that happen every day among boys and men of all ages, where someone can choose to thoughtlessly or maliciously wield insensitive or dangerous rhetoric regarding gender and sexuality, or can choose to be a watchdog against it.
Some of the sons that our generation is raising right now will be part of the next generation of UVA students, and some of those will join fraternities. By sending them well-equipped, we will ensure that the daughters we’re raising now will grow up with the allies they need, when they need them.
Let’s not be discouraged, but instead actively exercise this opportunity. It’s very messy to try to change the culture of the past that has gotten us to this point, and even with all the current attention that this recent situation has received, and the sins that are finally coming to light, we likely won’t get all the way there today. But tomorrow is still up for grabs.
~ Adam Slate