Opposing Rape Culture on Campus (Cimmeron Gillespie — Part 2)

Sylvia: Would you like to talk about current issues on the University of Oregon campus?

 Cimmeron: To throw in a story about fighting the patriarchy, [laughs] for a while the University of Oregon, in response to sexual assaults, would send out notifications saying, “Don’t get assaulted,” basically. You know. “Just follow these safety tips. Don’t go in dark alleys, travel with a friend, carry pepper spray.” And the problem with these sorts of things, it’s not like they’re totally unhelpful but it basically says to a survivor of sexual assault, “YOU did things wrong. This is your fault.” It doesn’t say this person who both broke laws and violated your personal safety and was not being consensual, this person is at fault. It blames the survivor. You did wrong because you didn’t follow these safety steps.

So there’s been a push from the Women’s Center on campus saying, “Hey, look. You’ve gotta change this.” They’ve been contacting a certain dean, again and again. There was no response. Basically he said, “Ah, well, we’re talkin’ about it, we’re working on it.” And he shut ‘em down. They talked to him for years, and he made no movement on it. It was clear, nothing was gonna happen.

So I went with some friends of mine who were involved, a friend who was involved in the Women’s Center, and we went to a senior administrator and we sat down and we said, we want a meeting about this. And the first thing he said was, “Oh! Well, didn’t you go talk to [this same dean they’d been talking to]? And we said, “Look! His role in this university is clearly just to silence dissent. His role is clearly NOT to take action.” It’s just to channel people’s feelings and emotions so you don’t have to deal with this. But, this is a real problem that needs to get dealt with. You need to change this!

What you’re, in effect, saying is that you’re essentially condoning sexual assault, blaming the victim. You’re telling the perpetrators, “You’ve done nothing wrong. These survivors did things wrong.” And we had a very good meeting. And the administrators who I talked with at that time, said you know, you’re right, this is terrible. [laughs]

 And by the time they sent out another report, that a sexual assault had happened on campus, they had begun making changes. It’s not perfect but I think it’s important to continue to push and think about the ways that we can oppose rape culture in our society. The culture of justifying rape, of blaming survivors, of not teaching consent, of not getting people on the same page. That just like normalizes that sexual assault happens. “Oh, it’s bad that it happens.” But, like never saying like “These people are sexually assaulting people!”

So, what actual changes came about on campus? Were there statements about rape is bad or whatever?

 Yeah, well, instead of having all the comments blaming survivors, instead, their first comment was, “this happened. Everyone should know that sexual assault is breaking laws. You should not do it.” [chuckles] And then went on to have some other suggestions and they made some changes to what they were saying. [sigh] In a lot of cases these reports just say, “This happened in this area.” It’s not like they’ve caught someone. It’s just letting people know that something has happened.

It’s far from perfect. I think there’s a broader conversation that our society has to deal with, talk about consent. That should be happening in every school right along with sex education. The fact that you can talk about biology, but not talk about how do you talk about permission about sex, that that’s not a part of every single sex education curriculum is to me horrifying, cause what that sets up is people wanting sex, knowing how to have sex, and not understanding how to have consent and how to have it in a mutually respecting way.


About Sylvia

Sylvia Hart Wright, the interviewer and blogger, has combined efforts to help achieve a more peaceful world and social and economic justice, with a career as a librarian, author, and longtime college professor. For more about her, please visit her website at sylviahartwright.com There you can also find the first chapter of her memoir-in-progress, ACTIVIST: Adventures at the Cutting Edge of Social Change.
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