Men Should Accept Responsibility of Sexist Privilege

To the Editors:

At the end of last semester, President Dye sent a letter to the entire campus addressing sexual violence on campus over the preceding months but published her letter in the final Oberlin Review of the semester, leaving no room for public response. The issues Dye discussed in her letter remain critical, and her letter necessitates public discussion. In that, I find Dye’s letter both misleading about the realities of sexual offense in Oberlin, and abstracting in its theoretical approach to violence.
First, the letter unhesitatingly asserts that ‘the Oberlin administration has taken issues of sexual offense very seriously.’ To the contrary, throughout my four years at Oberlin I have witnessed first hand and heard numerous stories of incredible incompetence, apathy, arrogance and sexism on behalf of the administration as a whole and the sexual offense policy administrator in responding to incidents of sexual violence and its existence as a problem in general. This is not to say that there are not administrators who have and continue to provide great care and support to survivors of sexual violence as well as those working to end it, but it is to refute the assertion that the administration as a whole can claim with any integrity to take such incidents seriously. I know of at least seven women and one man raped during my time here at Oberlin. I have heard of countless more (not reflected in published College statistics). In none of the eight cases I know of was a perpetrator expelled, and in only one case were the perpetrators moved out of a location near to the survivor. In the two cases Dye discussed in her letter, so far no disciplinary action has been taken, yet one of the survivors/accusers has dropped out of school. I will not discuss the two recent cases specifically, but only to say that I too have seen the majority of the hearings in the first case and hear a bit about the second, and Dye’s description cannot be seen as the authoritative truth, despite being presented as such in her letter.
As Dye states, under Oberlin’s own standards the rights of accuser and accused must be balanced, and ‘Individuals are presumed innocent in an adjudication process until proven guilty by a preponderance of the evidence presented in a formal hearing.’ Unfortunately it is never this easy, and this process has the effect of valuing the rights of individuals to a ‘fair’ adjudication process over the rights of survivors... 80 percent of those who are raped know the person attacking them, and most cases of sexual offense and violence have no witnesses. The College’s system, then, leaves the entirety of the burden of proof in such cases on the survivor, rather than a consent-based policy in which there is also a partial burden placed upon the accused to delineate in their defense exactly how consent was reached. As it stands now, in most cases of sexual offense all the accused must do is call the survivor/accuser a ‘liar.’
Of most consequence, Dye’s letter completely abstracts systemic issues of violence at play in sexual assault. While I do not see it as ‘intentional’ or reflective of President Dye’s political beliefs, per se, it is incredibly worrisome that in a space of ‘higher learning’ and occasionally progressive thought no systemic analysis of violence would be used in trying to understand why people may not feel safe in Oberlin. Simply put, the word sexism didn’t make it into the 1000+ words of Dye’s letter. On the contrary, Dye states that every case needs to be examined individually. Although this may appear ‘logical’ at first, it has the effect of preventing us from seeing any systemic sexual violence (among other violences), and gives the impression that violence is committed by the pathological and crazed few who somehow got violence into their blood. In that, Dye writes that ‘Although the College works diligently to keep the campus safe, no amount of effort by the College alone can do the job. Personal safety also involves taking care of ourselves and others. Every student can take steps to reduce the possibility of being raped or of raping someone else.’ Dye then suggests that refraining from alcohol abuse will help to prevent sexual violence. While these statements are true in a very literal sense, to only point out alcohol as a complicating factor in cases of sexual violence is at best abstracting of the systemic social realities that promote and allow sexual violence to exist in the first place. People (women in particular) who do not feel safe because of the blatant systemic violences all around them are being told by Oberlin College ‘oh don’t be silly, it’s just a few crazy guys, and they need to stop drinking.’
It is not just a few, and Oberlin deserves much more from the college’s administrative response to the violences affecting our various communities. It is not a coincidence that the vast majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by men upon women, nor is this argument at all new. As men we are each socialized differently, but there are structural similarities in the ways in which the majority of men understand sexuality and consent that can have violent consequences. As a man, I was born into this world armed to the teeth with weapons of sexist privilege... rape is one of them. My capacity for violence, sexual assault and rape as a man is something I have the responsibility to engage and address along with other men. Alcohol alone is not what would lead me to sexual violence although this would be a reasonable conclusion after reading Dye’s letter. Further, to argue that people should not drink alcohol as a method of sexual assault prevention (although in a literal sense it may be valid), has a similar political effect in the victim-blaming it insinuates to an argument that women should refrain from wearing tight clothing so as to not look like they are asking for it.
I fully support ‘redoubling our efforts’ to improve Oberlin’s programs for sex and alcohol education, and strongly support President Dye for planning campus-wide discussion’s on issues of sexual violence. At the same time, though, we must also address systemic social issues that harbor violence. Campus-wide education on sexism and sexual violence and structural racism (among many other forms of social violence) can hopefully prove equally as valuable in recognizing, addressing and ending the many violences that exist in our communities. In particular, people of social privilege (men, white people, etc.) must get together to engage our capacity for violence as groups and individuals, and begin to challenge the systems that provide us with such privilege (sexism, racism, etc.). Every time we hear a racist joke and say nothing, every time we listen to someone blame a victim of rape and do nothing, and every time we pretend that racism and rape are not our problems, we support the continuation of oppression. We must speak up... It may not be easy, but it is essential. As one small step, the first meeting of Men Can Stop Rape will be at 8 p.m. this Tuesday, Feb. 12 in Wilder (sign will be up). Anyone at all interested in the issues this article brings up please come.
Rather than focusing on the ‘pathological and crazed,’ let us have the courage to look at one another. People (women in particular) are likely to feel scared when there is a ‘rapist on the loose’... but there are potential rapists on the loose every day, and I am one of them. As a man this is a reality I must grapple with. For men as a group, we must own up to the higher responsibility of working to transform the reality itself.

–Benjamin Joffe-Walt
College senior

February 8
February 15

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