By Emma Stejbach, Guest Columnist
- Because it’s a hard thing to fix. Many were deeply hurt or offended by Josh Wagner’s satirical article, and felt like there were more tactful ways to approach the issue, especially because the article didn’t have a specific call to action. Josh can have the best of intentions, and still have his medium spark the worst of reactions. At the end of the day, it is not our responsibility to each other to convince one another when satire is appropriate, or whether someone’s character is good or bad (a rather impossible task). It is our responsibility to listen, and then take action – this is hard, but necessary, work.
- Because the administration has failed students. They have allowed perpetrators of violence to stay on, and return to, campus after being found responsible for egregious acts. Victims will share the stage with their perpetrators during Commencement.
- Because when people speak up, their concerns are reduced. If you speak up against bad rhetoric and you’re a fraternity member, you only care because you don’t want Greek life to look bad; when you’re a female, you only care because you are “sensitive enough to be offended”; and if you’re me, a former Panhellenic president, you’re labeled “an unsuccessful nominee for commencement speaker.” (Seeing as I co-wrote a response to the article over a year ago, and that I was one of 25 “unsuccessful nominees,” it would be difficult to conclude that my interest in it began recently, or was self-motivated.)
- Because when Professor Hays started conversation about the article, she was vilified by students and fellow faculty. After a student’s concerns about Josh being the commencement speaker were ignored by the administration, and a student-led petition was started, Professor Hays was asked by students to start conversation about rape culture on campus. She was vilified by derogatory op-eds and postings in the library, as well as demeaned and yelled at by male colleagues in her workplace. Her experience of fervent retaliation, and a lack of conversation, is precisely why victims and their advocates remain silent. Fear of such treatment is why the petition organizers remain anonymous.
- Because no one directly related to the petition was made aware of, or invited to speak at, private discussions with the voting committee. How can we stand with victims, if we don’t allow them to speak at the table (literally)?
- Because even though the administration was offered petition data, they chose not to take it. The concerns over inflated numbers and filtered responses could have easily been mitigated, if they wanted to see for themselves. Let’s improve process.
- Because when key members of the administration are given 11 pages of verified comments from the petition, from students, faculty, alumni, and parents, that range from sadness, to outrage, to detailed victim testimony, there is no response. This speaks for itself.
- Because we need to listen more. This means actively seeking out opinions different than our own, and empowering voices that feel disenfranchised by, or distrusting of, the administration. How can we stand with victims and allies if they must consistently self-advocate, and hope that they are listened to, in a structure that has failed them?
- Because we need more transparency. This goes for all processes.
- Because male allies have done amazing work that they are often not recognized for. Every fraternity and its members must do better, and every fraternity and its members must be responsible for the culture they create and the acts they excuse. We have a long way to go. But many men have answered this call to do better, and continue to do so. I am proud to call many of these men my friends.
- Because the college has not figured out a way to make students feel confident in their system. They fear the implications of reporting offenses, whether they will face disciplinary action, and whether they can trust administrators. People like Valentina Cucuzza, the Violence Prevention Coordinator and Director of the Women’s Center, and Jessica Ritter, the Victims Services Advocate from Survivors, Inc., are integral to making this campus a better place.
- Because we haven’t learned that there are ways that we can disagree on some points, but come together on others. Not everyone that signed the petition was vindictive and short-sighted, and not everyone that chose not to is misogynistic and ignorant. Let’s not just agree to disagree. Rather, let’s agree to have conversation, knowing we may disagree at the end, but that we can find common ground and new understanding along the way.
- Because funding is still an issue. The grant that funds the Office of Violence Prevention is ending soon, and the Women’s Center is only partially funded, and has never had a full time director. For all previous reasons, it’s important that funding and support becomes a priority.
I would like to emphasize this next point: Josh did not deserve to become the face of the administration’s failings. It is important to recognize that many of the issues brought up by his nomination were longstanding administrative issues (lack of transparency, failure to listen to students, etc.) that he had no part in. Josh should be responsible for his actions, and he could have done better. But so should the administration, and all other community members. So, to come full circle, I’ve included what I believe was missing from the original article: a productive call to action.
Here are 13 ways you can make a difference:
- Ask Valentina Cucuzza and Jessica Ritter how to get involved in discussions on campus – trust me, they’re amazing.
- Join SASA or any other groups on campus dedicated to changing campus culture.
- Go to sexual assault and violence prevention workshops, lectures, or presentations. If you’re in Greek life, these count as education events – get your chapter to go.
- Be an ally – support and believe victims (sometimes this includes just simply listening).
- Be an advocate – if you see a problem, do something about it. Confront it, diffuse the situation, offer help, or address it with leaders in your organization.
- Continue dialogue on campus, and demand a seat at the table if one is not offered to you. We need student-led forums and committees that can draft better policies.
- Speaking of policies, enact them within your organizations about how to handle sexual assault and domestic violence.
- If you have experienced or witnessed misconduct, know your confidential resources: counseling services, Jessica Ritter (from Survivors, Inc.), and Kristin Largen (College Chaplain).
- Recognize that you might not always get it right – you may laugh at an insensitive joke, or even make one, or perhaps unintentionally dismiss someone’s feelings. There is power in apology; we are all works in progress.
- Ask for transparency in any and all processes – it’s important for students to know what’s going on in their community, and what’s being done to improve it.
- Develop relationships with administrators and vocalize concerns to them directly.
- Consider donating needed items or volunteering at organizations like Survivors, Inc.
- Believe in the ability for a campus to change its culture.
Editor’s Note: Josh Wagner has recused himself as Opinions Editor from all matters related to Commencement. He had no part in reviewing or editing this article, and editorial control was exercised by Benjamin Pontz, Editor-in-Chief. Anyone who wishes to submit an opinion piece on this topic is welcome to do so by sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org. (-B. Pontz)