Let's talk about sexual assault

Emily Doe from Stanford University shed her alias and revealed her name: Chanel Miller. Her case took on national attention after the perpetrator, Brock Turner, received a sentence of only three months. In response, her memoir, Know My Name, will be released this week. Her testimony in 2015 foreshadowed the #MeToo movement, one that encouraged thousands to share their experiences and started important discussions about sexual assault.

More recently, a piece in The New York Times by Deborah Ramirez added weight to the allegations made against her former classmate, Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, that he "drunkenly exposed his penis to an unwilling Yale classmate, who ended up touching it while trying to avoid him."

These revelations about years-old campus sexual assault cases both came out in the last month, showing the ongoing relevance and lasting effects of instances of campus sexual assault. In The New York Times piece, Ramirez talks about the ways in which the sexual misconduct felt for her like a confirmation that her classmates did not respect her. The assault, said Ramirez, served to "make it clear [she was] not smart."

In the case of Ramirez, these conversations are happening almost a quarter of a century after the initial assault. At Carnegie Mellon, we have the opportunity to normalize conversations about sexual assault and help support survivors who may be feeling those same feelings of exclusion now.

We must not be complacent with our current discussion on sexual assault here at Carnegie Mellon. Cutesy videos likening consent to tea and mandating that students take brief online courses on consent are all fine and dandy, but those efforts alone are not enough. Students can walk away from viewing three-minute clips or short interactive classes with faulty notions of consent fully intact. Sexual assault is not a topic that’s fun to discuss or as exciting as other parts of first-year orientation, but it’s still important that students understand consent. Unlike a random lecture for the boring yet mandated gen-ed that you’re trudging through, understanding consent is valuable knowledge that is critical to carry throughout your life.

Sexual assault also doesn't stop being an issue after the first year of college. Though teaching new Carnegie Mellon students about healthy relationships and consent is vital, students of all ages continue to face these issues. The Carnegie Mellon student convicted this May of sexually assaulting a Pitt student was a junior at the time of the assault.

Last year's mandated sexual assault reports put the 2015-2017 number of reported rapes occurring at Carnegie Mellon ahead of other Pittsburgh universities, including much larger universities. In a statement given to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, university spokesman Jason Maderer attributed these numbers to more students reporting sexual assaults. Either way, the solution is to increase efforts to make this campus a safe place for people to talk about their experiences if they so choose, and to try and combat a culture permissive of sexual assault.

The process for reporting sexual assault and harassment isn’t widely discussed on campus, making the knowledge or process possibly inaccessible to students. If a student isn’t even aware that they are a victim of sexual harassment, let alone the process for reporting the incident, how can we truthfully say that we have taken strides to combat sexual assault on campus? Additionally, students may find the process of reporting traumatic, lengthy, or unhelpful. Victims may find that they are put in uncomfortable or unsafe situations with their abuser, only to find that administration can do nothing other than suggesting the victim find ways to avoid their abuser.

As students who make up a college community and people in a larger society, we have a responsibility to hold ourselves accountable. We must educate ourselves on what enthusiastic consent looks like. We must be cognizant of resources for sexual assault victims so that we can help ourselves and others. We must learn to recognize signs of abuse and assault and act accordingly in these situations. Although we cannot stop the problem of sexual assault as lone individuals, we can take steps to help prevent it and create safe spaces for survivors within our own communities.