Five female students are sitting at a round table in the rotunda of Linderman Library. Statistically speaking, one of these five women will experience sexual assault in her lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
The initial study that reported this statistic, which was funded by the United States Department of Justice, is often criticized and discounted by those who believe this number is higher than it really is. If this were untrue, logic would dictate that other studies would draw different conclusions about the number of women who are sexually assaulted. In 2015, however, the Report on the Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct found that 23 percent of female undergraduates are sexually assaulted, which is essentially one in five. This survey questioned more than 150,000 students in 27 institutions of higher education.
This verified statistic is alarming, as are all statistics about sexual assault on college campuses.
The fact that sexual assault occurs is disturbing, and that it happens so often is both disheartening and terrifying.
According to the Lehigh University Police Department website, 11 students have been raped, which is a form of sexual assault, in the past three years. This number only takes into account those who have been raped and is not indicative of the number of sexual assaults, but it still indicates that sexual assault is a problem on Lehigh’s campus.
Based on the statistics, it is evident that sexual assaults are happening on college campuses across the country, including at Lehigh. We must determine why this is happening and determine what factors lead to this.
At the University of Pennsylvania, some undergraduate students received an email from an off-campus group Aug. 31 that told first-year female students to wear tight clothing to parties and not be a tease, among other things. A group of students, who did not send the email, printed it with the text “THIS IS WHAT RAPE CULTURE LOOKS LIKE” and taped it up around campus.
This is what rape culture looks like at a university not too far from Lehigh. The email sent at the University of Pennsylvania refers to female students who are attending parties at the school. Parties and alcohol are often tied to sexual assault on college campuses, so it is imperative we take a substantial look at how these things play into rape culture and sexual assault on Lehigh’s campus.
While an email was not sent on our campus, certain items at Lehigh may contribute to the sexual assaults that occur at Lehigh.
To start, there is the Lehigh ratio. The ratio system is one in which a male student can only gain access to a party if he brings enough female students to balance out his presence. First-year male students can be found asking to join groups of women going out on any night so they can improve their ratio.
Then, if the guy deciding who to let in the party doesn’t approve of the female students in the ratio, he will comment something like, “Bring better girls next time.” While the ratio system is not discrete to Lehigh and that comment is not uttered by every male student working door at a party, these things do perpetuate a misogynistic atmosphere that can lead to sexual objectification of female students and, in turn, sexual assault.
Then add the “intense hookup culture” and parties with little light, a lot of alcohol and loud music that prevents conversation.
None of these things happen only at Lehigh, but they do happen here and can all add up to an atmosphere that contributes to sexual assault. What we can do to prevent sexual assault is both tied into these items and the conversations we have about them.
We talk about hooking up at parties and hooking up in general. Most of the time, it is done safely and with consent. It is sometimes, however, encouraged as a way to validate social status. This sort of encouragement may lead to a campus culture that perpetuates rape culture.
It seems obvious that no one is ever entitled to any sort of sexual activity unless explicitly stated. Consent is a lot easier to understand and comprehend, however, when alcohol is not involved. The loud music that prohibits conversation and the tight basement that smashes people together don’t help the issue either.
Conversations about consent need to happen — even if you are in a dark, crowded basement. Those conversations need to happen in that moment, but they also need to happen during the daytime. The party culture needs to be discussed.
Non-accusatory conversations need to happen in which textbook definitions are pushed aside and administrators aren’t leading the discussion and ignoring some of the facts.
We need to have open, frank discussions around a round table about how the party scene on our campus plays into rape culture and sexual assault, so we can take steps to prevent it.