As Bemidji State University pushes to revise the Minnesota State’s 37 college and universities’ definition of sexual assault, the focus on ending campus assault has also reached nationwide. Following up on my last post regarding #metoo, some of these issues are highly contentious and arguably have a gray area for some. Still, the work being done by researchers and students alike to make our campuses safer cannot be ignored.
As a student at a non-traditional institution, I haven’t had to deal with out of control frat parties or dorm room assault at Metropolitan State. But having visited friends at traditional campuses, I have seen this firsthand. Drinks getting drugged. Women realizing the next day that they blacked out and have no idea if they’d been taken advantage of. Guys not thinking that they should think twice about bringing that incoherent girl upstairs. And simply being a woman facing harassment or bias just for being who I am, I can tell you that this is a problem wherever you are. Being a commuter college doesn’t mean that harassment and assault don’t happen. It just happens in a different way.
While Minnesota State tightens up the gray area of “affirmative consent,” two Columbia professors are shifting to a broader view of changing the culture. Jennifer Hirsch and Claude Ann Mellins, at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health are looking for new solutions where other programs have failed. Instead of just focusing on individuals, S.H.I.F.T., or Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation provides a broader examination of sexual assault. As Hirsch puts it, quite bluntly, “We have to stop working one penis at a time!” The program seeks to portray sexual assault prevention as part of sexual health, instead of a topic that most people would like to avoid.
So, tighten up the gray area or broaden the view? I tend to give preference to broader solutions, since tightening up the rules seems to make otherwise unaffected people consider it a taboo issue. At the same time, I do believe that individuals must be accountable for their actions, and for that I applaud the Student’s United group of Minnesota State for giving a clearer definition of “consent.” Sexual assault on campuses is nothing new, but perhaps a new approach is exactly what we need.