Following President McConnell’s decision to ban alcohol from all Greek life events at the College of Charleston, students—and locals—were left in a haze of confusion, debate, and sobriety.
Many people initially assumed that the ban resulted from the Princeton Review’s freshly-released party school rankings—if you haven’t heard, College of Charleston is number fifteen—but after a few days of silence, local news outlets began reporting a story involving two known fraternity members and the alleged rape of a seventeen-year-old girl. Though McConnell specifically stated that the ban “is not a knee-jerk reaction to an isolated incident,” the circumstances suggest that this particular occurrence may have been the final offense in a laundry list of inappropriate student behavior. Just a few months ago, several previous and current members of another on-campus fraternity faced serious arrest charges in connection with drug possession and distribution. Naturally, McConnell felt the need to react to these dangerous, harmful, and illegal activities permeating the campus, resulting in the proposed alcohol ban.
Along with the ban, McConnell imposed a mandatory alcohol training session to be completed by Greek members in order to regain their privileges. But if the school is going to start handing out alcohol safety courses like Saturday detentions, then why are only members of these organizations being punished? While the culture of fraternities undoubtedly encourages binge drinking, I can attest firsthand, as someone who was not a Greek member for most of my collegiate years, that excessive alcohol consumption is happening everywhere on and off campus.
McConnell’s statement on the ban even reads, “It’s not just our Greek students who have work to do. Our entire College community shares in the responsibility for cultivating the the type of university we want to be.” Greek members who are law-abiding, studious representatives of the campus feel that the ban is singling out one group of students and stereotyping the link between risky behavior and members of Greek life.
Though this assumption may have proven true in some cases, it’s ludicrous to assume that only Greek students are making hasty drinking decisions. Furthermore, it’s irrational and insulting to chalk up these recent offenses as mere results of too much alcohol. Do we engage in stupid mistakes more often while drunk? Of course. Should college kids drink less? Probably. But the over-consumption of alcohol is far from the problem. In fact, it’s so distant that it’s an entirely separate issue. Alcohol did not convince fraternity members to become involved in drug distribution. Alcohol did not coerce two young men to sexually assault a freshman.
The root of the issue here is not substance abuse—it’s a culture that perpetuates male aggression, sexual violence, and slut-shaming. College campuses across the nation are facing these same issues whether alcohol is involved or not, and it’s time to start implementing real solutions to these very real problems.
Too many news stories have surfaced recently around sexual assault cases in which the perpetrators were let off with a slap on the wrist, and the young women were essentially mocked by the very person supposedly administering justice. Dozens of these stories probably exist that never caught national attention, and even more stories remain trapped behind the lips of survivors who fear reprisal and harbor a lack of confidence in the judicial system.
In 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Justice estimated that merely 15.8-30% of sexual assault cases are reported to the police—and possibly for good reason. Many survivors do not wish to relive the trauma in a lengthy public trial only to have their offenders receive nominal penalties.
In just the course of one summer, Brock Turner was convicted of raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, sentenced to a remarkably short stint in prison, and released back into normal society. For some perspective, that’s less time than Martha Stewart spent behind bars for insider trading, far less than the one year mandatory federal sentence for marijuana possession of any amount, and even less time than the duration of one school semester.
So let me pose a question to you, President McConnell: if those students at Stanford had taken this mandatory alcohol safety course, would Brock Turner have left that young woman alone that night at the house party? Would she have walked home safely without ever knowing the pain of laying on a rough slab of concrete with the smell of rotting garbage wafting by? I don’t think so. Much more than having too much to drink told Turner that his behavior was acceptable.
If we as a college community want to dismantle that attitude, we need to educate our students—all of our students—on sexual assault. While McConnell’s statement does call for bystander intervention training, students should also be required to complete a more comprehensive gender studies program that highlights constructed gender roles, rape culture, and how the media encourages these attitudes. To create a more conscientious campus, a place where students can openly discuss gender issues is crucial.
A course such as the one I’ve proposed would certainly focus on equality of the sexes, but would also allow students to reflect on the pressures, challenges, and expectations that come along with being male and female. A portion of the course would explain how rape culture normalizes sexual aggression and perpetuates the notion that men are somehow entitled to sex. This course should empower young women to be sexual beings rather than shame them, while also expressing that they don’t owe sex to anyone—not after an expensive date, not because you’ve hung out several times, not ever.
Awareness is the key to preventing sexual assault, especially at colleges where there exists, and will always exist, an atmosphere of partying and alcohol consumption. Even if you are a male student who takes that alcohol prevention class, and you know not to let your friend pass out on their back in case they throw up in their sleep, or you’re aware that your body processes one beer per hour, if you think of sex as a right and an unconscious drunk girl as consent—you have learned nothing. Rape culture affects everyone—not just the young women and men at risk of sexual assault, but the men who become perpetrators.
Rape culture normalizes sexual aggression, and some people grow up believing that sex is an expectation, not a privilege. Evidently Brock Turner came from such a situation as his father's referred to the rape as “a few minutes of action.” It is this very attitude that needs to be prevented.
In the words of McConnell, enough is enough. Stop blaming alcohol for the actions of rapists. Stop blaming young women for drinking too much. Stop harassing them for wearing tight clothing. Take responsibility for the attitudes and actions that have led up to this widespread problem. The most important place to begin these changes is at the university level, and the College can initiate this change.
Working to inform and advise students on how to avoid and prevent sexual assault could vastly alter the environment of our campus, and campuses’ around the country, making this school safer for the young people hoping to make their world a better place.