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Words, not only actions, lend to campus sexual assault

Hayley Nagelberg, Columnist

Collegiate sports teams earn universities plenty of publicity and a lot of money. These athletic teams bring school spirit and give college students a way to spend a few hours of their time, if they choose.

They also bring debate over financial allocations and student preferential treatment. And if you are the Harvard soccer team this year, they bring about a very serious discussion of the sexualization of women in society.

Six members of the Harvard women’s soccer team recently joined together and published an op-ed in their school paper, exposing a men’s team tradition of writing a “scouting report” of new female recruits. The story holds that the men expressed their thoughts on the women in terms of physical appearance, and ranked the women against each other and against recruits from past years.

The women wrote in their letter that they know their own self-worth, and that this document could never define them. They wrote about how these men’s words and actions cannot simply be brushed aside under the name of “locker room talk,” because to them, the entire world has become this locker room.

This story is not the most recent, but in the last few weeks, I found the story circulating again on my Facebook newsfeed. It was condensed into a 2.5 minute-long Lifetime video, which has now been viewed over two million times. 

The conversation about how men discuss women in public has made headlines this year; not only in this story, but also in the presidential election and many more forums. Some people try to separate words from actions, but the narrative regarding how women are discussed leads directly into a conversation, and furthermore a reality, of sexual assault.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. When the Illinois Student Government shared their calendar of events on Facebook for this month, there was an entire document of sexual assault awareness programs and a whole litany of co-sponsoring organizations. The post shared the calendar linked to the national “It’s On Us” campaign, as well as the Women’s Resource Center.

The post called upon all students to take a step toward supporting the survivors that already are around us this month, and toward helping to end sexual assault so as to prevent that list of survivors from growing.

I am not convinced that these amazing programs can bring about the change that is so needed at the University.

There has been a lot of discussion on campus as to whether or not the “It’s On Us” campaign is accomplishing its goals. There has been argument over where the student government spends their finances, when support of purchasing “It’s On Us” materials was vetoed upon seeing the gap in the movement’s goals and the realities on campus.

Recently, an “It’s On Us” video was published showing what text conversations could be like if the messages were auto-corrected to show the reality of rape culture that pervades the environment. 

When learning about rape and sexual assault at this University as freshmen, we are told the most important thing to say to a survivor is that you hear them, you believe them and you will support them. These words can have the most impact.

Finally, to the men of Harvard Soccer and any future men who may lay claim to our bodies and choose to objectify us as sexual objects,” the women said in their article, “in the words of one of us, we say together: ‘I can offer you my forgiveness, which is — and forever will be —the only part of me that you can ever claim as yours.’”

The women of the team, with these words, made a statement to fundamentally reevaluate how this culture is seen and discussed.

The actions of rape and sexual assault undoubtedly need to end. But recent events show us that it is necessary for each and every one of us to recognize not only the actions, but also the words of those around us.  

Our words hold incredible weight, and therefore our words must change if we hope to create an environment of true understanding of, and ultimately an end to, the occurrence of rape and sexual assault.

Hayley is a sophomore in ACES.

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