I Hold The Torch To: Relationship Integrity
Emily Schutzenhofer, NLC President
- One in four college women have survived either rape or attempted rape in their lifetime (Tjaden, P. & Thoennes, N., 2006). 5-15% of college men have acknowledged forced intercourse (Koss et al., 1987; Malamuth, Sockloskie, Koss, & Tanaka, 1991).
- Only 5% of rapes and attempted rapes committed against students are reported to police (Fisher et al., 2000).
- 79% of the rape/sexual assaults against students were committed by non-strangers.
- More than one-third (36%) of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) undergraduate students have experienced harassment within the past year, and 20 percent of faculty, staff, and students surveyed feared for their physical safety because of their sexual orientation or gender identity (Rankin, 2003).
- According to an American College Health Association sampling, in 2004, 11% of women and 9% of men on college campuses had seriously considered suicide and 1.3% reported at least one attempt within the last school year.
I am a student at the University of Virginia. I daresay that my peers and I are at the epicenter of a powerful movement: an urgent reevaluation of campus culture. Last semester, our campus— or as we call it, Grounds— was shaken to the core by several devastating acts of violence, both homicidal and suicidal, that ripped far too many of our Wahoos from our midst. In November, the release of the Rolling Stone article, “A Rape on Campus” (http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/a-rape-on-campus-20141119)—which excruciatingly detailed local accounts of sexual violence and explained its horrifying prevalence—tore through Grounds, as it did through the rest of the nation, and we stared the ugly reality of our campus culture in the face.
At first we were told to not quiver: to mind our steps, because scrutiny was upon us. We must toe the line, it was whispered, in order to not risk tarnishing the University’s reputation further. But what was at risk was the safety of our fellow students. What was tarnished was many students’ previously immaculate idea of the culture that surrounds us. But the shards of the shattered frame through which many had viewed the University culture were sharp, and students held them up. We couldn’t and wouldn’t watch this spine-tingling aspect of our culture as it slunk back into the shadows. The students questioned it. At UVA, honor is a historical and traditional imperative. And though there are plenty of bureaucratic reasons to explain why we, based on our Honor Code, expel students who lie, cheat, or steal— while NOT ONE has ever been successfully expelled for rape— our insufficient version of Honor left us shaking our heads. Too many times last semester, I walked the Grounds in tears, at a loss: what could we DO? Why are acts of heinous violence against each other so prevalent here, and on campuses everywhere? The statistics above don’t lie—how and why do we treat each other in such a way that generates such awful odds?
There are a lot of gaps that allow for violence and such grotesque underreporting of violence to go on. But fundamentally, at the foundation of all of this violence is the concept of respect for each other as human beings: respect for our fellow students’ autonomy, will, personhood, or whatever you choose to call it, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, way of dressing… Regardless. As we advocate for changes to be made at higher institutional levels to promote safety on our campuses, we must also look at ourselves. Most importantly, we must examine the way that we treat all of the peers around us and consider how that might be the foundation for violence on campus, or the elimination thereof. How do you demonstrate integrity in all relationships, whether they be romantic, platonic, or with a total stranger? If you can make any small changes to demonstrate uncompromised integrity in your relationships, preparing yourself to always respect others and to support those who need help, we can one-by-one reconstruct our shattered campus cultures into stronger, safer, and more supportive places to live and to learn. That is why I Hold The Torch to reconstructing campus culture.
- Why do I think violence is so prevalent on my campus?
- How do I treat others in such a way that might promote or contribute to violence or harassment of any sort? How can I change those behaviors, and how will that affect my campus culture overall? How can we all encourage these behavior changes amongst our peers?
- Do I use language or hear others using language that is derogatory towards women, the LGBTQ community, racial or ethnic minorities, or other often victimized groups? How do I respond to hearing those words? If I spoke up against this sort of language being used, how would that small-scale intervention make my campus community a better, more supportive place to be? How could practicing this small-scale intervention help prepare me to be an active bystander in response to more urgent, violent situations?
- If I were a victim of violence, would I know how to report it? Who could I turn to for support in that time of need?
- What can I do to keep myself safe on campus, and how can I share my strategies with my friends and peers out of concern for their safety as well? All sorts of tools, like mobile safety apps such as LifeLine Response (http://www.llresponse.com/partners/nscs.html), can help me and my friends prepare for emergency situations on or off campus, in addition to the safety measures on my campus! What else can I do to keep an eye out for my peers?
- If a Survivor came to me for help, would I believe her/him? How could I respectfully help my peer handle that stressful situation? Conversely, am I myself mentally prepared to be open to accepting needed help or intervention in the case that I were to become a victim of violence or was made vulnerable while intoxicated, etc.? What can I do to facilitate this sort of relationship in a crisis?
- What can we do, as an NSCS chapter, to educate others about relationship integrity as it relates to campus safety? Then, how can we extend our work to advocating for policy changes at our University, towards the same goal?
The students at UVA bravely have confronted the violence in our campus culture and started to ask ourselves these questions. There’s a long way to go still, but we’re proud to say that the administration has moved accordingly to make changes as well, and we are all still working to reconstruct our culture and to make our University a safer place to be.
The following are resources from the American College Health Association that can help your chapter reconstruct your campus culture and eliminate violence.
Campus Violence White Paper (Assessment)
ACHA Toolkit for Prevention of Sexual Violence on Campus
Scholars, that’s all from your NLC. It’s your turn now. What do you Hold the Torch To?
Learn all about “I Hold the Torch,” the Integrity Week 2015 Initiative of the NLC! Hold the torch, meet the challenge, and get involved as student leaders on your campus, all across the #NSCSnation! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHwgw4DBCAU