Let’s Name Things for What They Are, Shall We?

This post was originally written for TheIthacan.org on April 19th, 2016

*This post is in response to the recent Public Safety Alert, which can be viewed here.

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault (because that’s what it’s called)

A couple of days ago, my phone buzzed with an alert from Public Safety. Since I’m not based on campus this semester, I oftentimes overlook these emails. But this time I saw that Public Safety is investigating a report of “forcible touching.”

Forcible Touching? I think what they mean is sexual assault.

According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, “sexual assault is a crime of power and control. The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim.” Last time I checked, unwanted touching falls under this definition.

We need to call it what it is.

Not acknowledging someone’s experience like this, is feeding directly into rape culture.

I get it, the phrase “sexual assault” is scary and we don’t want to admit that it happens at Ithaca College—but it absolutely does. According to a report on campus sexual assault published by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted during college and 27% of college women have experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact. On top of that, 90% of these crimes on college campuses are never reported.

So can we at least support those who do actually come forward? Can we validate their experiences? Can we call them what they are?

Maybe, if we do those things, one day there will be culture on college campuses where survivors feel safe in coming forward if they choose to.

Because right now, this inability to even give sexual assault the proper label, points to how seriously we take it.

It’s rape culture.

It’s downplaying the problem. And framing sexual assault as “touching” instead of a violation only implies that sexual harassment and unwanted touching and contact is not the worst thing in the world, that—like consensual touching—it happens sometimes.

To make matters worse, according to psychologist Lynn Phillips in her book Flirting with Danger, women and girls receive such conflicting messages about love, relationships, and male aggression that they struggle to even name their victimization and experiences. If we don’t call sexual assault what it is in official reports, it makes it that much harder for victims/survivors validate their own experiences.

Yes, even something as simple as a Public Safety email can reinforce to readers that their experience isn’t valid, that it won’t be called what it is, that coming forward isn’t worth it.

As a writer, I can tell you that the words and the language we choose has an impact.

I’m going to close out this post on a tough topic with some resources. If you’d like to find a counseling center near you, a hotline, or learn how to support a survivor, click here. If you’d like to find out about your reporting rights on campus and right to an education free from gender-based violence, click here to learn about Title IX.

Meeting Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Hi everyone,

I apologize for the delay in posting! I have been blogging for my school’s newspaper online. If you would like to see more of my writing please click here: http://theithacan.org/blog/activism-101

Well, I finally survived April. I survived balancing school with homework with my internship with planning and attending a billion Sexual Assault Awareness Month events. It was crazy and completely worth it but I’m glad it’s May. DC is 22 days away!

April was stressful and challenging but on the first day of May something amazing happened: I met Kirsten Gillibrand and spoke on a panel with her about college sexual assault.

Sometimes working as an activist to educate others and end sexual violence is like fighting an uphill battle. People ask me what I’m doing with my life or say things like “oh, cool” when I tell them I intern at The Advocacy Center. I’ve facilitated education events where participants challenge everything I say. I once put on an event where a professional staff member at my college showed up, said nothing to me or any of the other organizers, and congratulated the all-male fraternity for attending such an event.

But then one of my fellow peer educators at The Advocacy Center invited me to drive to Elmira College with her to see Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and to speak on a roundtable on college sexual assault with her. It was an amazing opportunity. We drove up early in the morning and we were expecting to just listen to the Senator speak the entire time. What I was wasn’t expecting was to walk into to see my name on a lamented card surrounded by college officials, legal professionals, Title IX Coordinators, and other advocates. It was a combination of all the voices necessary to really start a productive conversation on this topic. If we want to make a change, we have to talk about the problem first.

Sometimes, when I follow political campaigns, it’s clear that some politicians make statements on issue in order to procure votes from a certain demographic. When I was listening to Kirsten Gillibrand speak on Friday, I could tell that she was truly passionate about the issue and implementing legislation that holds perpetrators and colleges accountable. In her new bill that is currently going through the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), seeks to create more transparency, establish confidential advisors who are properly trained for students to disclose to if there’s an assault.

Colleges and Universities have historically swept sexual assault under the rug by mishandling cases, deterring reporting, and downplaying the issue. The majority of schools are more likely to expel someone for cheating and dishonesty than for committing a violent crime. I think the important thing to remember about campus sexual violence is that perpetrators of these crimes would be committing these acts out in the “real world” so these perpetrators shouldn’t be protected just because they are in the bubble of a college community. Under Title IX, schools are required to protect students from any form of gender-based discrimination that might prevent a student from successfully completing their education. Walking around a small campus bubble in fear of running into your perpetrator and being pelted with personal questions by school officials about what happened to you, is enough to deter someone from coming forward. But colleges (that students are paying a ton of money to attend) have an obligation to do something about this. Students deserve to be kept safe and students who commit crimes deserve to face consequences for those crimes.

This year has come with many challenges but also many many rewards and speaking on that panel was one of them. The panel was short so when they announced that it was time for the last comment I raised my hand and Senator Gillibrand called me by my first name. I grabbed hold of a microphone and spoke about my experience as an activist at Ithaca College and the behavior of campus administrators. When I finished, Senator Gillibrand thanked me for sharing my story.

Lately, I’ve been having a semi-panic attack about being almost two years into college, turning twenty, moving away from home for the first time, etc. and I’ve been questioning a lot of things in my life. But meeting and speaking on a panel on college sexual violence seemed to bring everything from the past couple of years together and make it all worth it.

Here’s a couple of links and news clips of the event:



I’m so grateful that I was given the opportunity to speak up about this issue.