The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the Editor: Peer educators on productive conversations about consent


In light of a recent thread on Grinnell Thumbs Down regarding a comment written on walls of the Burling first bathroom, we felt compelled to address the unhelpful nature of smackdown culture at Grinnell College. Grinnell claims to be passionate about cultivating productive discussions that lead to social change, but in our four years we have felt that the dominant voice has the power to produce shame and reduce the space in which we may have educational conversations.

We are not writing to legitimize the perpetrator or to suggest that their language is ever acceptable. However, we want you all to take a moment to consider what repercussions come from hate speech on Facebook.  We recognize that strong emotional reactions to this message are natural, especially if you or someone you care about has been a victim of sexual misconduct. We are not suggesting that you and your feelings regarding this incident are not valid in their strength. However, when we hear a voice that is dissenting and against our values, we must respond in a productive manner. We have power in these moments to help people understand why what they said is likely to have a harmful impact.

The first thing we noticed when we saw what was written on the wall was the first two words, which read, “I’m scared.” Can we ask ourselves to take a step back from the heat of anger and just for a moment recognize the possibility that the motive behind this was not of mal intent, but rather fear due to a lack of understanding? Even if this one message was written with malignity, what about all the other silenced voices on our campus who might be navigating similar fears?

While we are not advocating that expressing fear in this manner is a productive way to engage, we are recognizing that there are behaviors on the College’s campus that can make consent more complicated than its definition on paper. Consent only gets clearer the more we have productive conversations about it. Educational conversations about consent will reduce the number of unclear and nonconsensual incidences on this campus. If you are unsure about consent, you are not alone and the best thing to do is to start asking questions in a place that feels safe to do so. 

There is no shame in trying to improve your understanding but it is your responsibility to educate yourself. Luckily on Grinnell’s Campus there are plentiful trained resources eager to help you in this process of learning. Some of these resources include: Peer Health Educators, Advocates, Title IX, Wellness and Prevention and CAs. If you are upset about this incident, unclear about the intricacies of consent, or want to continue this conversation please reach out to us and we would be more than happy to thoughtfully discuss this further and help create cultural change on campus.

— Gwen Holtzman ’19 and Eliza Bunnell ’19

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