March 25, 2024

REYEN | Dear Rocco: The SA Needs to Represent Us

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Last spring, several of my friends and I were approached by Rocco DeLorenzo and Pedro Da Silveira to sign their petitions to run for Student Assembly. When we asked the duo what their plans to reduce sexual assault on campus might be, DeLorenzo told us an anecdote in which he had been tabling for IFC and a woman had approached him to share her experience of sexual assault in Cornell’s Greek Life system. 

DeLorenzo followed this with a scoff and a statement along the lines of: Why was she telling me? What am I supposed to do about that?

That’s why, while deeply unsettling, The Sun’s March 21 article exposing the former-Interfraternity Council President and Student Assembly Vice President of Finance’s private text messages came as no surprise to me.

I’m aware that many SA representatives view their campus constituents and larger community of Ithaca as a stepping stone in their political careers rather than keeping student interests at heart (see Patrick Kuehl’s Common Council campaign tactics).

After reading DeLorenzo’s text messages with Da Silveira in The Sun, I see his inaction on sexual assault as downright malice, not just ignorance. Rocco DeLorenzo does not want to fix the systemic sexual assault issues present in what he dubs the greek life “machine.” He’d rather maintain the status quo and, what’s more, avoid regulation of frats altogether.

What stuck out to me most about DeLorenzo’s text messages was his advising Da Silveira to not campaign on the use of date rape drugs at fraternities since it was no longer a focus on campus. Rape should always be a focus.

The overarching implications in these messages suggest that date rape as a campus issue was only important to DeLorenzo when it helped him politically: he was perfectly happy capitalizing on the issue to gain votes when it was already being discussed by the masses, but would rather it get swept under the rug in the long run. The belief that date rape — or any form of sexual assault in general — is an issue only for women underscores the silence and bystander behavior of powerful men that allows rape culture to persist.

While this type of corrupt behavior seems inescapable in the world of politics, it is extremely disheartening to see DeLorenzo view the wellbeing of his fellow students so callously.

DeLorenzo’s weaponizing of Title IX as a political ploy while privately supporting the accused is a sickening and terrifying precedent. If truly concerned about the allegations against Da Silveira, why didn’t DeLorenzo distance himself from Da Silveira earlier in his campaign? It seems DeLorenzo was not truly bothered by the possibility that his running mate had sexually assaulted someone, but only cared about the issue when it could be used to his benefit: in this case, to hoist Patrick Kuehl into power as the new SA President. This “get the first mover advantage” talk delegitimizes the Title IX system and treats it as a sort of battle between adversaries rather than a grievance procedure for legitimate complaints of sexual misconduct. 

Also, as DeLorenzo says that he “can’t morally support a Plan B vending machine” while adamantly opposing discussion of (or solutions to) the date rape issue on campus, I’d be curious to know how DeLorenzo considers it moral to limit access to medical treatment for individuals who have been sexually assaulted. Beyond emergency contraception being a part of equal healthcare access, the National Women’s Law Center states that providing emergency contraception is a critical part of comprehensive healthcare for sexual assault survivors. 

DeLorenzo also complained that criticism of fraternity sexual assault and harassment is targeted hate speech, but had no problem telling Da Silveira, “I’ll tell them to their face, there are only two genders,” during a rant about the presence of tampons in men’s bathrooms.

Frankly, I’m wondering why a measure intended to make campus more inclusive bothers him so much. There are plenty of implements in society — accessible parking spots, for example — that I know aren’t created for me personally, but make spaces accessible and inclusive for others who need them. Accessible parking spots don’t impede my life, and neither do tampons in men’s bathrooms. Is it really that difficult to just be respectful, even if you don’t fully understand the perspective of every single other person on our campus?

As DeLorenzo has the privilege to attend a university with such vast educational opportunities, I call on him to take a class in the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies department before he graduates and takes these toxic mentalities into a future workplace — or worse, an elected office. 

I went on Sidechat to see if other students shared my repulsion and saw that one student had anonymously written, “Feeling very terrible as a trans person at this university right now.” The Student Assembly is meant to be a voice for our student body; not a soapbox for privileged attitudes. Cornell needs to set an example by not turning a blind eye to outright intolerance by an elected student representative. 

Let’s reward someone who understands the positive impacts the VP of Finance role can have on campus culture and inclusivity, rather than letting DeLorenzo retain the position as a boost for his resume.

Carlin Reyen is a third year student in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her fortnightly column Just Carlin’ It Like It Is centers around student life, social issues, Cornell life hacks and the University’s interactions with the broader community. Carlin can be reached at [email protected].

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