Opinion: Sexual Assault is a Serious Issue

(Photo courtesy of Gettysburg College)

(Photo courtesy of Gettysburg College)

By Joshua Wagner

Dear Class of 2019,

It was a great honor to be selected graduation speaker for the Class of 2019.  Growing up on a small farm in western Pennsylvania, it was not an expectation that I would attend college.  That I will speak at commencement is a source of pride for my parents and grandparents who were not able to achieve a higher education.  Earning the respect and congratulations from my peers has been an incredible privilege.

However, a petition is now floating about campus asking for me to be disinvited to speak.  A satirical article from the 2018 April Fools Edition of The Gettysburgian has sparked some debate over whether I believe that sexual assault is a laughing matter.  I would like to put that question to rest.

I believe that sexual assault is an incredibly serious issue.  The 2016 Campus Climate Survey showed that 10% of students experienced unwanted sexual contact during their time at Gettysburg College.  These statistics are troubling and point towards systematic problems that face our campus community.  We need to create an atmosphere where sexual assault is not tolerated.

In combating sexual assault, I believe that we should use all rhetorical tools at our disposal including satire.  Figures like Steven Colbert, Trevor Noah, and John Oliver use this tactic to great success—and on April First, so does The Gettysburgian.  Some state that satire will never be an appropriate medium for addressing sexual assault, arguing that it trivializes the subject.  That was not the intent.

My intent was to start a conversation about the prevalence of sexual assault at Gettysburg College and to point out where it can happen.  Through my experiences at Gettysburg College, I learned that it is our duty to use our privilege to advocate for causes we are passionate about, to make our communities safer and better places.  That was my intent.

To the petitioners, I would ask that they reach out to me.  As an advocate against sexual assault, I am on their side.  If they created a petition tasking the administration to stop sexual assault on campus, I would be the first to sign it.

I look forward to spending the next several weeks with a truly incredible cohort of Gettysburgians.  Learning with you and from you has been the privilege of a lifetime.


Joshua Wagner

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Author: Joshua Wagner

Josh Wagner '19 is a chemistry and mathematics double major who enjoys bike rides on the battlefield and waving around a red pen as the Gettysburgian's Managing Opinions Editor. When not editing for the Gettysburgian, he can usually be found working in the College Life Office, helping students with calculus as a PLA, or studying in the library.

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  1. In this “satirical article” you also imply and refer to a group of your fellow students as nothing more than sexual predators. A commencement speaker is supposed to bring together a class of students, not separate and judge others who have decided to join organizations different than yourself. The fact that this piece is not simply an apology for the daft and insensitive article written last year is disappointing.

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  2. Hi Josh, hard to imagine other parents and grandparents wouldn’t feel some pride. But my parents wouldn’t feel pride for making light of sexual assault, and they certainly wouldn’t be proud of a non-apology. I’d like you to address some of the other jokes you made, as well. The topic of the article (sexual assault) and the demonization of a subgroup (FIJI, proud GDI here btw) are only some of the flaws present. Backstreets of Baghdad? I don’t know about you, but my Gettysburg education taught me about the vast power dynamics at play that led to that destruction of a foreign country for US interests. OJ Simpson? I’ve learned at Gettysburg the value of each and every human life. That woman cannot come back, no matter your talent in chemistry. Bill Cosby? It’s not just about sexual assault on campus, you seem to think the entire system of male power is something funny, and perhaps harmless, based on how you tied this joke to the greater theme of the article. It’s quite hard for me to imagine there wasn’t a less offensive and more intelligent way to approach the issue. In my opinion, this article, coupled with your prior one, merely serves to reflect a failure of your education here, and I would much rather see a commencement speaker who learned about these issues and applies them well than one who doesn’t, and whose only defense is the invocation of satire. Satire is a tool, but a tool that can be misused.

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  3. The grace and thoughtfulness of this response show why so many of the faculty, students, and administrators who work with Josh think so very highly of him. Josh, I am proud to call you my student and think that many in our community would do well to follow your example.

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