By Dylan Alles, Amanda Corwin, Mimi Dobelle, Molly Feldstein, Zoe Gaffney, Lindsay Gallo, Lauren Gluck, Sarah Grady, Alex Heisler, Mikaela Johnson, Morgan Larrabee, Emily Malinowski, Kelly McCarthy, Shannon Oleynik, Caroline Vaughan, Caelin Weiss, and Julie Wolpow
We’re torn. The past few years at Colby have been some of the best of our lives. We love this place, and are so grateful to go to a school filled with inspiring people that challenge us to think critically. But at the same time, we’ve been forced to acknowledge that this community can do much better, because the incredible experiences we’ve had here have been intertwined with a social culture that accepts and perpetuates the objectification of women. In reading this article, we only ask that you try to hold back the eye roll you might usually give to a piece like it. Talking about, reading, and discussing these things isn’t always comfortable, but experiencing it isn’t either. So for the few minutes that it takes you to read this story, we ask that you open your mind. It’s important.
As women, we want to acknowledge that we are guilty of choosing to not speak out when conversations tacitly promote a culture in which we objectify each other. We’re working on it, but it can be challenging when speaking about feminist ideas is so often labeled as “aggressive” or “entitled.” Our regrettable tendency to be passive about sexual violence has changed, however, as we have observed, and in some cases experienced firsthand, its prevalence on this campus. We recognize that while our voices come from personal experiences and sentiments, these thoughts may not fully represent all perspectives at Colby. For this reason, we want to say thank you to all of the groups and individuals that spend time and energy every day thinking about how to fix these issues. You all rock. We applaud you, and we hope this only helps and adds to our collective effort.
Sexual violence, in all of its forms, hurts. Even if there are no bumps or bruises, it is as traumatizing and criminal as any form of physical abuse. It doesn’t go away the next day just because there is no visible evidence. In fact, that is when the problem is most dangerous. The hush surrounding sexual assault is fueled by the false conception that it is somehow disconnected from other, more visible forms of violence; but we want to be very clear—sexual misconduct, in any form, is violence.
We also want to make clear that sexual misconduct encompasses a much broader set of actions than many of us realize. It’s much more than the most publicized and most serious form: rape. It is a wide range of actions that cross the line. We need to address the full spectrum—from vulgar name calling, to seemingly innocent butt grabs, to non-consensual sex. We need to instill the courage in ourselves and in our friends, regardless of gender, to speak up on all accounts. Whether we’ve experienced sexual assault directly or indirectly, we’re dealing with it as a community, and we all feel the repercussions.
You might never be able to understand the level of vulnerability and insecurity that victims of sexual violence and harassment feel, and we’re not asking you to. But we are asking you to do something—anything—to help change the system. If you hear that someone has been taken advantage of sexually, your first response should not only be to believe them, but also to advocate for your belief in them. Not only will you be contributing to the effort, you will be consciously reminding yourself, and those around you, that this is something to fight for. We are all currently part of the problem. But we’re lucky, you see, because we also get to be part of the solution.
Silence perpetuates the cycle of sexual assault. And as amazing as this place is right now, it is not a place where we feel comfortable admitting or talking about the fucked up parts of our social culture. Some people just don’t want to think about it. They don’t want to believe that their friend has done something to make a girl afraid to go out on Saturday nights. They can’t imagine that the “harmless” sexist joke they told actually reinforces a culture in which physically acting on those sentiments is acceptable. And they don’t want to recognize that their unwillingness to talk about this culture is what’s allowing sexual violence to continue to happen.
This community is made up of amazing people, and that is why we want to ignite this conversation. If we are all more aware—if we think about how our actions, or our complacency, are hurting our friends, our group members, our teammates—we will all insist on being a part of the change that we want to see. And while we need to work on this together as a community, the reality is that men have a unique role to play in speaking up, being heard, and changing the way that we view what is acceptable—use this privilege.
At its core, this issue is a cultural one. It will take individual responsibility and accountability to overcome. And it’s definitely not easy. It’s hard to say something that all your friends won’t, or to step back and reassess your actions. But this is what needs to happen. On an institutional level, there are a lot of things that Colby has done—wellness seminars, codes of conduct, bystander intervention training—but these mean very little if the very community that it’s trying to “help” has yet to accept that there is an issue at all.
Everyone loves Colby for different reasons. Just sitting around writing this article we have discussed a couple hundred of them. No one should feel unsafe in this place that has the potential to become the best home we could ever ask for, so let’s work together to make sure no one threatens that potential. It’s not just important, it’s imperative.