University of Virginia rape story sparks Staples conversation

When searching for the perfect college, there is something rarely addressed in the information sessions, searched on the websites, or talked about by the student tour guides: rape culture.

Recently, Rolling Stone Magazine published an article centered around a rape incident at the University of Virginia; however, the article was retracted due to the incredibility of a source. Regardless of its unreliability, the article brought the topic of sexual assault at colleges to light and became a topic of conversation for high school seniors who are about to step foot on college greens next fall.

Statistics reveal that in one year, 300,000 college women, over 5 percent of women enrolled in colleges and universities, experience rape. More specifically, women in sororities are 74 percent more likely to experience rape than other college women.

“This article provoked a lot of conversation that should have been happening a long time ago,” Camille Shuken ’15, a senior applying to UVA, said. “I knew about [rape on campuses], but I think the recent UVA story has created a conversation that reveals how serious and common [sexual assault] actually is.”

The fact of the matter is that sexual assault is common and occurs for a variety of reasons. A senior boy, who asked to remain anonymous, feels that drinking often instigates rape.

“Often in college scenes, and even in this school, girls go to parties, get too drunk and provoke guys and, after, regret decisions they make,” he said.

Whatever might lead up to the incident, organizations like Culture of Respect have been aware of this issue for a long time and have taken measures in the effort to prevent sexual abuse and assault specifically on college campuses. Founding board member, Anne Hardy, explained that Culture of Respect is a non-profit organization centered around harnessing the power of students creating and demanding change via school-wide mobilization regarding sexual assault.

“We believe colleges have an obligation to teach students, administrators, faculty, parents, coaches and health professionals to move beyond a ‘band-aid fix’ to campus sexual assault and focus on the humanity in all of us,” Hardy said. “This demands every constituent’s voice and a multi-pronged approach to eradicating rape culture on college campuses.

Culture of Respect works to raise awareness on the issue that has seemed to go unnoticed by both prospective and current students and their families and faculty. Ellis Laifer ’15 and Gabi Titlebaum ’15 both said that the safety precautions of a school were not determining factors, placing academics, community and location higher, in their decisions regarding college choices.

“I now realize many campuses are not as safe as they may seem,” Titlebaum said. “And awful things happen at even the most prestigious universities.”

Current sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, Julia Sharkey ’13 agrees, and wishes that the safety on campus was more of an extensive topic of discussion.

At University of Wisconsin and many other colleges such as Cornell University and University of Connecticut, the blue light system is implemented throughout campus which consists of set emergency alarm stations strategically located throughout campuses that can provide assistance to anyone in distress. When an individual presses the alarm button, within 30 to 90 seconds, an officer associated directly with the Department of Public Safety will respond.

“There are blue lights located on certain paths that many students run on, however not many students are wandering these paths late at night, so it doesn’t help that much,” Sharkey said.

Many believe that awareness and conversation will bring change and protection just as much as any safety precaution.

“Research shows that one of the most powerful tools that can create change on the issue of campus sexual assault is the power of the bystander,” Hardy said. “Every student at Staples has the ability to ‘disrupt’ rape culture on campus and ensure that all are safe to pursue their dream of a college education.”

The majority of Staples students will be obtaining a college education after they graduate high school, and thus many will be placed in situation where sexual assault can happen.

“It makes me nervous to be a freshman next year,” Shuken  said. “But I feel that being aware of the problem will make many more students way more cautious.”