To my fellow Wesleyan students:
Here at Wesleyan we tend to believe that we are a part of a progressive and diverse community dedicated to making sure that people of all backgrounds can feel comfortable, respected and safe. This is mostly accurate and so it is all the sadder that there is an unacknowledged darker side that endangers all of us. To be specific: so long as sexual assault continues to be ignored, accepted or excused (and, by some, encouraged) within our community, our campus will continue to be unsafe. As long as alcohol abuse allows us to lose sight of our values as a community, and as long as extreme intoxication is seen as “normal,” we will all be unsafe.
Please don’t assume that this is an attack on the administration for neglecting to address these issues or care for its students. On the contrary, in the past two years, Wesleyan has taken numerous steps to protect survivors of sexual assault, largely as a result of student input. However, we still have a significant problem with rape on this campus and we will continue to have this issue if our collective attitude about sex does not change. The administration can only do so much to clean up after our messes, and only we can decide to change the conversation. We wouldn’t need more resources to protect survivors of sexual assault if sexual assault stopped all together. The problem is that few of you really believe that is possible. Or maybe you are able to pretend that rape doesn’t actually happen at Wesleyan. Allow me to take this opportunity to tell you a little bit more about myself.
During my freshman year, I was raped in Clark Hall. Last semester, I was assaulted again in Psi U. Both times involved extremely intoxicated “friends,” and both times resulted in months of psychological distress. For now, I’d like to focus on the most recent experience, because in many ways it has taught me the most about Wesleyan students, the way we think about sex, and how we address instances of sexual assault.
When I was assaulted last November, many of my friends saw me moments after. I approached my first friend hysterically crying trying to make sense of what had happened, blubbering about my past rape while trying to remember to breathe—he responded by telling me he’d always found me attractive. And then he kissed me, probably hoping that he’d be getting lucky that night (remember, this was approximately two minutes after I had run away from an assault). I promptly left the frat house, finding a dozen ways to blame myself for what had happened on my short walk home.
The next day, I decided to explain the assault to the friends who had seen me crying the night before. I told them exactly who had done it (let’s call him Philip). Philip was their friend too, and in the next few months, I saw bro-code function in an incredibly toxic way. Not one of my friends decided to call Philip out for his actions (I don’t know why I had expected all of them to leap to my defense). Now, five months later, we barely speak, except in passing. They don’t call me or try to hang out with me anymore. It seems they’d rather pretend I was never really their friend than address the fact that their “bro” assaulted me. I think they wanted me to just “get over it” because if they could, why couldn’t I? In the short period after my assault, none of these friends reached out to me to make sure that I was okay. They didn’t think twice about inviting both Philip and me to the same places at the same time. And not one of them told Philip that what he had done was wrong. My friends’ silence essentially told Philip that his actions were excusable; their subsequent rejection of me assured him that I was just a “crazy” girl, overreacting to a normal weekend encounter.
When Philip did finally talk to me, he never really owned up to his actions. He did, however, make many excuses for his behavior including “you’re really hot,” as if that gave him some right to my body. When I tried explaining the importance of consent, he countered, “it ruins the moment to ask” and “there has to be an element of surprise.” His predictable responses speak to the larger hook-up mentality at Wesleyan. We seem to have come to this agreement that it’s “yes” until it’s “no” when in reality we should be looking at any sexual encounter as “no” until it’s “yes.”
This has to stop, Wesleyan. It has to stop before even more people get hurt.
Wesleyan should be a place where students respect one another and the people around them. We do a pretty good job maintaining our image during the week, but can the same be said for the way we behave on the weekends? Alcohol is repeatedly used as a tool and an excuse for violence and vulgar behavior. However, it isn’t alcohol that causes assaults; it’s the existing mentality going into the night. It might be easy to finish reading this Wespeak and assume, “this isn’t my problem and I don’t behave that way.” But I’d like to encourage you to take the time to reconsider not just the values that you bring to your weekend nights but those you enable in silence. Consider what it means to be a part of this community. You might be surprised by what morals you have been willing to sacrifice and how often you have disrespected this community in your drunken revelry and for the sake of “having fun” or getting laid.
It’s time to work together to change the conversations we’re having about sexual assault. Or rather, let’s start having the conversation a little more openly. Please don’t act like my friends did. Please don’t choose the path of ignoring sexual assault, but challenge yourselves to let the problem affect you too. This isn’t a conversation reserved for survivors, professionals, and women only. In fact, the conversation won’t have any impact until everyone joins it and works together to make Wesleyan a safer place.
Badgley is a member of the class of 2013.