September 26, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | In Response to Addressing Male Sexual Victimization at Tapestry

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This letter is a response to “Addressing Male Sexual Victimization at Tapestry.”

We are the members of Ordinary People, the student group which writes, performs, and co-facilitates Tapestry of Possibilities, one of the orientation events mentioned in a recent article and letter to the editor. We would like to begin by mentioning that Tapestry of Possibilities is an event focused on myriad possible scenarios that students may experience on this campus. The content in our show, in fact, is completely based on the real experiences of students. Tapestry does not exist to provide solutions or demands but to start an ongoing dialogue about overlooked issues amongst Cornell students. Ordinary People cares deeply about male sexual assault. It is extremely important to recognize that narratives of sexual assault directly affect those who feel comfortable reporting and has a real impact on real people who experience these issues. We know that this is an important issue that needs to be addressed and have written and performed skits on this topic in other venues. However, Tapestry is a 90 minute event, about 60 minutes of performance and 30 minutes of facilitated conversation with the audience, and male sexual assault was one of many extremely important, and rarely spoken about issues that was not present in this year’s show. A time-constrained, orientation event seeking to tackle “diversity at Cornell” is as broad and daunting as it seems and as a troupe we know definitively that Tapestry cannot possibly engage with every topic related to the loaded and often misapplied term “diversity.” While sexual assault is an important issue that we frequently cover in Tapestry, we are not specifically “Cornell’s sexual assault educators,” a role filled by Speak About It, another separate orientation event.

Both The Cornell Daily Sun article and the letter to the editor used a misquotation from one of our moderators/troupe members that was the basis for much of this discussion. During a conversation about important issues that were not included in the show, one student brought up the topic of male sexual assault. Our facilitator verbally agreed that male sexual assault is an important issue, and added, “I would just like to point out that the majority of victims of sexual assault tend to be women.” The facilitator did not intentionally imply that sexual assault was not an issue for people of other genders. Another student later expressed their feeling that the facilitator was dismissive because though male sexual assault occurs less frequently than other instances of sexual assault, it is less talked about and therefore more deserving of time on stage. Our troupe member did not under any means say that male sexual assault was not an important issue. As students who do ten shows during the first week of classes — performances that take an incredible amount of time, energy and emotional stamina — it is distressing to be misquoted.

We would like thank Professor R. M. Douglas for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response focusing on the necessity of acknowledging and spreading awareness about male sexual assault. While perhaps based on a misunderstanding, it is this sort of exposure of underrepresented issues that is the reason we do this work. We believe that male sexual assault is a serious issue that is under discussed and needs attention and in many ways we applaud the fact that this letter openly brings this important issue to the forefront and supplies statistics which help to firmly declare that male sexual assault on college campuses happens. It is a problem. It is under-serviced.

We cannot attempt to adequately pack every important issue related to diversity in a 60 minute script, while also forming multidimensional characters whom audience members can empathize with, attempt to have compelling conflict, and be relatable to incoming freshmen. This 90 minute session cannot possibly encompass the wealth of identities, experiences and important issues that students bring to Cornell. It cannot alone create substantial change. We do the work because we believe that theater is a meaningful way to connect with students, that it can encourage them to empathize with a perspective or identity which differs from their own, perhaps one they have never seen or heard about before, and to begin the process of speaking across differences.

Gwendolyn Aviles ’17
Hadiyah Chowdury ’18
Jazlin Gomez grad
Alfie Rayner ’19
Matti Yarn ’20