Last night at Michigan Tech, students were alerted via text message and email that a sexual assault had been reported outside of Walker Hall a couple days before. The email contained your typical police report qualities–a description of what the offender looks like, a time and place, and how to be safe in the future. The tips for women at the bottom of the email: “Please increase your overall safety by being cautious, aware of your surroundings and walking with a trusted friend or co-worker, particularly after dark.”
We are one of the “safest schools in nation,” but the reality of the situation is that women are still being told to walk with friends. They are still being told that their presence, alone, makes them a target. During Women’s Month, we get rape defense classes alongside pilates classes and fashion shows. We continue to be told that we are responsible for not being raped.
This event has obviously been on my mind since I got the message. I walk home from school, often at night, and I work in Walker. I would like to believe that I am not being naive for thinking I am safe. This morning, the student body got an email from Les Cook, who has been notorious for offensive and sexist statements through email and on Twitter. His email was to give thanks–for hockey being number one in the nation, for the stupid husky statue merely existing and for the pep band. None of which I, or as I can imagine many other female students, give a shit about right now considering what has just happened.
This was the beginning of the email from Les, entitled “Season of Thanks”:
#1 National rankings this week have our Hockey Huskies as the best in the nation, something we’ve known for a while now – it’s nice to see the rest of the country finally catching on. And if that wasn’t enough, our football Huskies are hosting San Angelo State this Saturday at Sherman Field in the first round of the NCAA Playoffs. San Angelo is in Texas. I checked, they enjoyed a sunny 71 degree day today. So I can’t help but chuckle a bit as I write this (on Wednesday afternoon) as it is absolutely dumping snow outside my window right now – a perfect Michigan Tech welcome for our Texan visitors. We wouldn’t want it any other way, right? At the end of this email, I’ve included some more information on both games provided by the Athletics department.
. . .
I replied with the following hasty email…and heard nothing back:
Frankly, when there is a major sexual assault reported on campus, I would hope that the email from you the next day would have more to do with that and less to do with sports and the husky statue. Tech needs to step up and address issues of harassment and assault on campus, especially within the sports community, and stop sweeping these issues under the rug. As a woman who works in Walker every single day, I couldn’t care less about hockey right now. What I do care about is what Michigan Tech is planning on doing to address this issue and better work with their students to avoid assaults like these in the future.
I want to be able to expect better from Tech. But as of right now, I do not.
Last night, this event sparked a conversation between a ROTC student and myself. He told me that so much of the training that the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps goes through has to do with avoiding sexual assault. However, he said that this training was all internal and for the most part, useless due to it’s twisted message: don’t rape because you will get in trouble and get us in trouble, not because it is wrong. We discussed that not only is this the case in the military, but that there is a very similar message being propagated to male students all across the country as well. You’re going to get in trouble and then we’re going to have to work to protect you. Like the student who was expelled after graduation for sexual assault. Like the student who continues to go to Columbia despite raping multiple women–despite one of the victims carrying around a mattress for months. Like Harvard’s sexual assault policy not requiring explicit consent.
I expect Michigan Tech to respond to this event in a way that shows that they have a legitimate concern for their students. I expect them to not sweep it under the rug like they have in the past. And most of all, I expect a response that shows active commitment to ending rape culture in a way that is effective and starts with educating the offenders, not teaching the victims that they are to blame or responsible for preventing their own assault.
Rape prevention tips, by and large do not work, and when they do, they merely remove one woman from the rape equation, allowing the rapist to move on and assault someone else. If we truly want to eliminate the threat of rape on campus, we need to do something other than give women the same tired and ineffective advice about buddy systems and watching our drinks.