Men need to take action against sexual assault

Breaking down rape culture on campus requires the active participation of men on campus

Content warning: sexual assault

When I was collecting information for an article on the #MeToo movement at Vanderbilt, an unsurprising pattern emerged: everyone I interviewed was a woman. Sara Starr is the head of VSG’s Sexual Assault Prevention Committee (VSAP). Cara Tuttle Bell is the Director of Project Safe. Claire Smrekar is the Chair of the Provost’s Sexual Misconduct Prevention Committee. Nicole Baptista is the Project Coordinator of Vandy Fems. Molly Zlock is the director of the Title IX and Student Discrimination Office. It is clear to me that women are taking the lead on combating sexual violence on campus. While it is important that women feel empowered enough to try to change our sex culture and advocate for victims, it is problematic that men are not involved to a similar extent.

The problem of sexual violence is gendered. In the vast majority of cases, a man is the perpetrator and a woman is the victim. If we are seeking to root out sexual harassment and assault at its core, it’s imperative that men change their behavior. Men are the ones who are disproportionately catcalling, raping and everything in between. And on this campus, men have not only failed to take a leading role–they’ve failed to engage with the problem.

When I was going through the mandatory Green Dot bystander intervention training for fraternity members, I saw everything but engagement. Some knocked out after the first hour. Some took extended bathroom breaks. Some played on their phones. Some doodled. The group leader had to prompt many times for simple answers to simple questions. Looking around the room as I walked out of the training session, I felt that a lot of the men didn’t gain a thing.

Last Thursday, I attended Project Safe’s Prevention Procession and Survivor Speak Out. As the name indicates, there are two parts to the event. The first was a 15-minute march in solidarity with survivors. After this, the processors walked into a quiet room where survivors of sexual violence told their stories. In between the procession and the speakout, there was a station where members of Greek Life could swipe their Commodore Card to get credit for Greek Member Experience (GME), a program that each fraternity needs to participate in by getting enough swipes at events around campus to avoid suspension.

Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that most of the fraternity men I saw came to the procession, got their GME swipe and left before the speakout. They came to the walk, talked and joked their way through it, got their GME swipe, avoided confronting the problem laid bare at the speakout, and made it back to their houses and dorms in time to get ready for a night out. Looking around the room during the speakout, I couldn’t find most any of the fraternity men I saw at the procession.

Men, by and large, are causing the problems. But they’re not learning how to prevent the problem and they’re not willing to confront it. They need to take initiative. They need to attend survivor speak outs so they know the dire consequences of inaction. They need to pay attention at bystander intervention trainings so they know what to do when a friend isn’t respecting a woman’s boundaries. But they need to do more than that. Fraternity men need to call out their brothers for making rape jokes. They need to be willing to stand up to their friends who are taking advantage of women. They need to know how to recognize narratives of sexual harassment and sexual assault to help their female friends who may not understand the gravity of what happened to them get the help they need. And they need to know how to help their female friends who have been victimized.

All men on campus are capable of doing these things, and, rape culture won’t change until they decide to do them.

Max Schulman is a first-year in the College of Arts and Science. He can be reached at maxwell.r.schulman@vanderbilt.edu. 

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