The Only Line of Defense
My first year was also the first year of the CMC Advocates. Consequently, they had no power or funding. Bystander intervention, however, was alive and well. We heard that term repeatedly through orientation, from RAs, from FYGs. Personally, I didn’t really get it. It seemed pretty important, but I don’t think I had a clear understanding of all the ways in which a night could go wrong.
Pretty early in our fall semester, one of my female friends started making comments about how a well respected senior man seemed to be interested in her. We weren’t really bothered by this. He moved on pretty soon, and seemed to become somewhat obsessed with another first year girl that we barely knew. Between then and now, I have heard from countless senior women that this man harassed them and followed them around when they were first years. They didn’t say anything in their first year. He was popular, he was involved, administration loved him. In retrospect, his actions were downright predatory.
My first Halloween, I had, as usual, lost my friends very early in the night. I was hanging out at dark side Boz, and I knew they were around somewhere but wasn’t particularly worried about finding them. I ended up besides a junior at the time, and we started talking. He seemed really fascinated by the fact that I had not dressed up (I hadn’t discovered the black cat cop out yet). We kept talking for a while, and it became pretty clear that the night would probably end in a hook up. While he was briefly talking to his friend, I checked my phone. My RA had texted me: “Hey friend… I don’t know what your plans are for the night and don’t want to make any assumptions, but if it involves going home with him, I’d really recommend against it.”
Assuming she could see me, I looked around and saw her standing with the other on call RA and one of the deans. Full of blind faith in my RA, I made an excuse about going to the bathroom and walked up to her to ask her why she had texted me. She ended up explaining that a lot of women had stories about sexual assault and rape and she wanted me to be safe. At the time, I don’t think I understood why I was so upset by the incident. I ended up going to my FYG’s room in Green and crying on her couch, while she tried to make me feel better about the hookup culture at CMC. In retrospect, I was just scared. If my RA hadn’t seen me, if she wasn’t plugged in socially enough to have heard those stories, I would have gone home with him.
My sophomore year, there was a lot of talk about a list of sexual assailants circling. With a year under my belt, I’d heard way more stories of assault and harassment, and I had an informal list in my head, too. When I saw first year girls getting too close to certain men at parties, I would, like so many other women, intervene. But now the Advocates were an established organization, in their bright teal shirts, always watching. There was one line of defense.
My junior year, Brett Kavanaugh became a Supreme Court judge. I was more upset by his appointment than I was by Trump’s election. All I could think about were all the current Government majors, who I knew to be predators and assailants, working towards similar positions. Listening to Kavanaugh’s trial and the surrounding commentary, I kept thinking of the men we were letting graduate who would, one day, be in positions of power like him. Every time someone questioned why Dr. Ford hadn’t said anything earlier, I was thinking about all the women I knew who also would not have said anything. I kept thinking about how women would come forward only when men got elected or appointed to ASCMC, became FYGs, RAs, student managers. I thought about all the incredibly brave survivors who also would come forward if their CMC rapists became Supreme Court judges.
As a senior, I can’t even count how many men I know to be predators. I can’t do anything about it. The only thing I can do is never interact with them, and warn the underclassmen who don’t know. Short of reporting, that seems to be the only thing any of us can do. It's the spring semester, and with that comes new RAs, new FYGs, a new ASCMC board, and countless other leaders. And with those elections and selections, as usual, will come some men who have harassed, preyed on and assaulted women on this campus. Some of these acts are well known, some are not. Some happen publicly, some do not. What I think about is myself as a first year, who accepted that men in positions of leadership are trustworthy, who had blind faith in my RA. There will be more first years who believe that the people in positions of leadership on this campus deserve their trust. My RA looked out for me when I was drunk and unaware, but not everyone in their position necessarily would have.
Bystander intervention truly seems to be the only line of defense people on this campus have, as predators are constantly elevated into positions of power. So, I guess, what my point is… is look out for your friends, because our institutions simply do not.