September 7, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Addressing Male Sexual Victimization at Tapestry

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Re: “First-Year Students Raise Concerns About Orientation Events at Student Assembly Meeting,” News, Sept. 2

To the Editor:

I was taken aback to read that Cornell’s mandatory orientation sessions “Tapestry” and “Speak About It” exclude coverage of male sexual victimization from their presentations. Still more extraordinary was the justification offered by a moderator when questioned about the absence: “[sexual violence] predominantly affects females, so we address the female issue.”

Such adherence to a long-discredited “one size fits all” approach, on the part of an individual specifically charged with educating the Cornell student body about the dynamics of sexual assault, is disquieting. Only last semester, in her keynote address for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, author and activist Kate Harding — herself a victim of campus rape — reminded the audience at Flora Rose House of the importance of not overlooking men and boys who have suffered sexual violence. “When you put people into one of these ‘unrapeable’ categories,” she said, “that just creates more barriers to [victims] being able to access resources and find help, let alone find justice.”

This message has clearly been lost on those in charge of Cornell’s first-year orientation, and the consequences are both obvious and alarming. According to the federal government’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, 17 percent of campus rapes and sexual assaults nationwide occur to male victims. There is reason to believe that at Cornell, the problem is more serious yet. The 2015 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct found that one in 10 male Cornell seniors — more than a fifth of the total victim population — had been subjected to a non-consensual sexual act during their four years in college. No less significantly, the same survey revealed that fewer than one in five male students considered themselves “very” or “extremely” knowledgeable about how sexual violence or misconduct is defined at the University.

Despite welcome progress in recent years, sexual violence against women and girls remains at pathologically high levels. It is necessary and appropriate that the majority of our efforts be directed toward combatting it. But the notion that sexual violence against men and boys — or against other victim groups like LGB, trans and gender-nonconforming people — may effectively be addressed by ignoring its existence is too obviously unsound to require detailed refutation. That Cornell’s sexual assault educators seemingly believe otherwise ought to be a matter of concern to the University administration, and to the campus community as a whole.

Prof. R.M. Douglas, history, Colgate University