Addressing sexual assault

To the editors of the Echo:

All members of the Colby community should thank the courageous group of 17 senior women for their honest and powerful plea for “sexual healing” in the November 19 edition of the Echo. Their essay points to the intertwined problems of female objectification and male entitlement, and illuminates how the social culture on campus contributes to sexual violence in its many forms. They also call for an end to the silence and the denial that are so often obstacles to honest conversation about these difficult and complicated issues.

Colby’s recently released 2015 Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey Report highlights important dimensions of our campus climate related to sexual violence. While the findings that 16.4 precent of women responding to the survey reported that they were sexually assaulted, or suspected they were sexually assaulted, while at Colby should be abhorrent to all of us, the data on unwanted verbal and physical sexual contact are troubling in their own right.

In short, almost three quarters of women responding to the survey reported experiencing verbal sexual harassment (e.g., “vulgar name calling,” sexually offensive jokes) and almost 2/3 reported experiencing unwanted brief physical contact (e.g., groping, “seemingly innocent butt grabs”). This is precisely what the 17 seniors describe in their essay—and when these kinds of actions and activities are normalized in a culture, more serious forms of sexual violence (including non-consensual sex, sexual assault, and rape) are sure to follow.

All of the members of the Colby community—students, staff, faculty, and administration—have a role to play in combatting sexual violence, and making Colby a safe and welcoming place for everyone. This effort, however, must not be simply an add-on; it must be integrated fully into our ongoing work on diversity, inclusion, and equity. It will not be easy, but with the kind of leadership and courage exhibited by the 17 seniors, it is certainly possible.

Mark Tappan

Education Program