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#Dissentingvoices and the problems with “It’s On Us”


On Thursday, a group of students protested the “Title IX ‘Rewind.’” Here is a text of the pamphlets handed out by the protesters to those in attendance of the talk.

This week, Grinnell joined the “National Week of Action to End Sexual Assault.” As the events of the week have demonstrated, this campaign is politically loaded but every bit as vacuous as it sounds. On Monday, Grinnell released the “It’s On Us” video, which delivers a number of empty, vague and over-determined statements as the only terms by which the campus community can think about and discuss sexual violence. What makes these statements so ideologically dangerous is that such an appeal to a univocal campus community inevitably silences and erases any dissenting voices. How can one ‘disagree’ with the video? Of course we all want to end sexual assault in any we can. These statements are obvious and appeal to our common sense. However, when active-bystanderism is presented as the most self-evident and transparent solution to sexual assault, the long history of misogyny that leads to rape is forgotten. Why not provide students with anti-sexist training? That might also prevent them from raping people. However, we did learn one important lesson from the College’s propagandistic video: “It’s On Us” to call bullsh*t on the administration and hold them accountable for their egregious violations of Title IX.

Q: Why are we wearing red tape over our mouths?

A: We are wearing red tape over our mouths to align ourselves with the red tape campaign that has been used at many other colleges and universities. The red tape signifies the systematic silencing of rape survivors and of meaningful conversations about sexual violence on college campuses across this country. At Grinnell, rape survivors are not allowed to define their experiences as rape. We can only use the term “sexual misconduct.” This suggests that students make sexual mistakes, rather than commit violent assaults that have lasting physical and psychological effects on victim survivors. We find this appalling.

Q: Why are the conversations about sexual violence on campus lacking and superficial?

A: We take the College’s recent “It’s On Us” video campaign as emblematic of the conversations we are allowed to have about sexual violence on this campus. First of all, the video mandates a consensus about the college community’s stance on sexual violence prevention and response. The video distributes equal responsibility for preventing and responding to sexual assault among students, staff and administrators, concealing the fact that there are major power imbalances and different (legal) responsibilities between these groups. It also greatly oversimplifies the issue of sexual violence, and suggests that active-bystanderism is the most effective means of prevention.

Q: Why is active-bystanderism not the most effective means of prevention?

A: Most sexual assaults do not happen with anyone around. Indeed, students here at Grinnell have been drugged in private and taken somewhere remote to enact sexual violence. No bystander could have intervened. Nearly 60 percent of sexual assaults occur in the victims’ own residences, and an additional 31 percent occur in other living quarters—all behind closed doors.* And studies have shown that bystanders are much less likely to act if the people know each other, which makes up the vast majority of sexual assaults. Focusing on active-bystanderism perpetuates a rape and rescue fantasy in which students—primarily men, as shown in the video—can protect others from rape, even though this is statistically untrue.

Q: What kind of meaningful conversations/counter-knowledges are we trying to establish, and how can others get involved?

A: Because Grinnell refuses to allow survivors to name their experiences as rape, the terms for tonight’s discussion have been already set. The lived experiences of survivors have been rendered invisible, yet the College insists that they “take reports of sexual assault seriously.” The College does not provide punitive outcomes for rapists, preferring “educational sanctions,” which result in brief suspension at most. There are currently students who have been found responsible for multiple counts of “sexual misconduct” still on campus. This does not create a “safe” environment, as the College purports. Based on our experiences,  is also more common for the College to expel students for plagiarism than for “sexual misconduct,” revealing that Grinnell values intellectual property over the bodies of students. The real litmus test for the College’s commitment to ending sexual violence is the punitive measures directed towards those found responsible for “sexual misconduct.”

We will be having a consciousness-raising meeting on Monday night at 7:30 pm in BCA 161 to further discuss these serious issues. We invite you to join us, get more information and help hold the College accountable for its negligence. 

* National Institute of Justice

Ed. note: Ian Byrd ’16 contributed to this column.

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    Grinnell parent and alumNov 29, 2014 at 12:52 am

    Twice in this piece you write that at Grinnell, “rape survivors are not allowed to define their experiences as rape.”

    This is a very serious accusation. Who is stopping them? How are they not being allowed to describe being raped as rape? Hard to take this columns assertions seriously when you are so vague.