I am pleased to see so much thoughtful attention being paid in the pages of PAW to the campus sexual-assault crisis over the last several issues. It’s clear the University is making an effort to address the problem. Yet, in spite of the new layers of bureaucracy, changes in disciplinary procedures, and awareness campaigns, we are still far from making real progress.
These efforts aim less at preventing assaults than at reforming what happens after an assault. The University needs to be willing to bear more of the responsibility for prevention, even at the risk of seeming like a “wet blanket”: Wouldn’t it be better that 10 consensual sexual encounters be avoided than one non-consensual act be committed? Why not move toward practical changes like dormitory check-in counters with guards, single-sex dormitories, and/or dormitory curfews?
As a former SHARE adviser, who for three years led discussions with freshmen after the University’s sexual-assault awareness play “Sex on a Saturday Night,” I saw that the overwhelming message for many students was about the lack of boundaries, rather than about the need for consent. They were entering a world of sex and relationships (treated lightly, even crudely) in which they would be left to their own devices, lacking rules and adult guidance and intervention. The University would be there to comfort and punish, but otherwise was out of the picture. This lack of protective boundaries needs to be remedied if we are to see positive change in the campus culture.