Augustana takes the first step in addressing sexual violence on campus
Addressing sexual assault and rape culture on campus was front and centre at this year’s orientation and welcome week.
Keith Edwards, a scholar and educator on sexual violence prevention, men’s identity, and social justice education, spoke to Augustana students in the student leadership session about sexual violence on campus and in modern society this past Aug. 31. Edwards’s presentation addressed the rape culture that exists on university campuses across Canada and the United States.
This was the first ever information session regarding sexual violence presented during the convocation ceremony, a critical step forward in addressing an issue that for so long has been considered a taboo in our society.
Edwards said that men are “overwhelmingly” the ones perpetrating acts of sexual violence. He emphasized that men must take action and fight against sexual assault, harassment, and rape in our society. His lecture told students that sexual violence has been considered a “woman’s issue” for many years, but, in reality, society must look at it as a men’s issue.
The lecture asserted that if men are the primary perpetrators of sexual violence, then it is them who can have the biggest impact in fighting it by changing the culture among men. Keith Edwards stated that 84% of males who committed an act of sexual assault did not believe their actions to be illegal.
According to Edwards, men are not deviant in a normal culture, but rather are behaving normally given the deviant cultural socialization. Their cultural socialization has miseducated them about what it means to be a man, what it means to hook up, and what it means to have sex.
Edwards said that men can make a difference by speaking up about the issue to help tackle the narrow minded idea of masculinity that is portrayed in modern society, and serves as a root of sexual violence.
Edwards emphasized the importance of bringing people forward and opening up a conversation regarding the issue. He believes it is the responsibility of students, not professors, deans or faculty to address rape culture.
Edwards said that students can avoid using language that objectifies women and avoid joking about rape culture. “What students can do is change their own behaviours to make sure they are not engaging in sexual violence,” said Edwards.
They can intervene directly when sexual violence is imminent, such as at a party, or indirectly by not participating in the objectification of women and insulting the intelligence, capability and humanity of women in general.
“The most powerful step is to change the student culture, what is beautiful about a small campus like this, is that you all kind of know each other, and you can actually make a difference really quickly,” said Edwards.
Edwards said that there are several ways that we can all work toward creating a community free of sexual violence whether it is learning that non-consensual sex is sexual assault, learning what it means to consent, and learning how we can challenge the way we view sexual assault. Edwards said that students and faculty must aim to learn about sexual violence but also educate our peers and take action to prevent it.
Dean Allen Berger and Ben Curry, the president of the ASA, weighed in on the action that Augustana is taking to deal with the issue of sexual assault on campus.
Curry said that the ASA is planning on continuing the message on sexual assault by engaging the student leaders.
“This will be a continuous cultural change that will happen throughout the year, and if successful, it will be continued in the years to come. This will have to happen in multiple ways, for example, focus conversations with residents and even a physical marketing plan directed at encouraging students to join in,” said Curry.
Curry said the exact nature of these plans are still in the process of being finalized. “This is because to change a culture you must have as many of the people inside that culture to take ownership of the change and take a part in the making.”
“To achieve this ownership the ASA is creating an opportunity for the student leaders here on campus to come and give their opinions as well as listen to others. The ASA will be holding an open door meeting sometime in the near future,” said Curry.
Berger said that Augustana’s plan involves aligning with the broader U of A effort, but, is also focused on ongoing initiatives locally on several fronts such as education and prevention, employee training, improvements in survivor support services, ensuring professional investigations and follow-through, and setting up systems to maintain and report accurate data.
“We’ll need to assess how we’re doing on an ongoing basis,” said Berger.
According to Edwards, based on average statistics from across Canada, there are an estimated 30 sexual assaults a year at Augustana, and the numbers have not declined.
There has been little progress in decreasing sexual assault on university campuses, however, Edwards remains hopeful that students will address this issue. Edwards ended his presentation with a quote by Cornel West: “I am not optimistic but hopeful, as optimism requires evidence of progress while hope is a spiritual leap of faith.”