In his Oct. 7column, Spencer Shen assessed the effectiveness of educational initiatives such as Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources & Education’s “Unless There’s Consent” program and AlcoholEdu. He decided that while they had honorable intentions, they merely represented “superficial investment[s] in reducing the amount of sexual harassment and abuse that happens on campus.” He further claimed that the University itself should take more extreme measures in correcting the sexually indiscriminate hookup scene of the Street. It was at this point that I started thinking about this idea of “effectiveness” in any kind of movement —after all, if we can even help one person, doesn’t that make the effort worth the trouble? While “Unless There’s Consent” or AlcoholEdu might not be dramatically reducing the 15 percent figure of female Princeton undergraduate students who have experienced “non-consensual vaginal penetration,” they still manage to educate students. Sure, there could always be improvements to both programs, but if these initiatives can save even a single victim of sexual harassment or teach one student about this issue, then there really shouldn’t be any argument against their implementation.
In fact, we should hope for more of these programs, especially those that accommodate the University student’s ever-hectic lifestyle. We should realistically consider that most students might not have time to join a student organization that teaches them about sexual harassment prevention. They also might not have the energy to attend a long conference meeting that talks about the dangers of underage drinking, but a student might respond to programs that manage to make these issues personal to him or her in a less intense way. Methods that spew out overwhelming statistics are less accessible to students. Rather, we should try to implement subtle, persistent techniques that could better transform the mindset of a student who was previously ignorant of these societal problems. If the University and student body could promote more of these programs, it would probably help to change the way students think about, talk about and approach partying on a more subconscious level.
Shen alleges that “strict rules and harsh punishments like the Honor Code, or passive educational initiatives like AlcoholEdu ... cannot actually alter students’ behavior significantly unless there’s consent from the students.” But how can student behavior change if there’s no higher authority or driving force instigating the conversation? No one can really conceptualize what the college culture is unless they have experienced it. This means that before we enter college, regardless of the stories we’ve heard from older siblings or the fantasies we’ve constructed from watching movies, there is no institution set in place to teach us what the implications of being a college student at this time in history really means. This means that programs such as AlcoholEdu and “Unless There’s Consent” have the opportunity to alter students’ mindsets before we even have a chance to engage in potentially dangerous activities.
Beyond what the University can do, we, as students, need to reinvent the idea of what the college culture should entail, just as the students in past generations who have made it what it is. At every point in our college careers, we should vehemently reject this notion that “a campus culture which embraces partying and drinking will inevitably result in some occurrences of ‘non-consensual vaginal penetration.’” I know that I as well as many of my friends have gone to the Street without even the slightest fear or expectation that we would be subjected to any kind of harassment, and this makes me believe that it is possible —through education and collaborative effort —to create a college culture in which all students can feel this way. I’m not saying that we can definitively separate the idea of sexual interaction from the culture of social drinking and parties, but I believe that students should always be committed to dissociating the idea of harassment from the culture they’ve grown to enjoy. For many students, going to the Street will mean the possibility of hooking up or even the more innocent alternative of interacting with a potential romantic interest, but whatever the intention may be, we should be able to create an understanding that whatever happens during or after we leave the Street will be on our own terms and that our peers can and will respect the decisions we make. The majority of us have already shown that we are capable of creating an environment based on respect and trust through the fairly well adhered-to Honor Code established by the University. Only when we acknowledge that it is within our power to change whatever our generation’s college culture is can we make our experiences exactly what we want them to be.
Isabella Gomes is a sophomore from Irvine, Calif. She can be reached at email@example.com.