“It’s On Us”

Katie Zavadski flags a new White House campaign to raise awareness about sexual violence on college campuses:

Officials are hoping the new ads will be screened on youth-oriented television networks and shown at sporting events. In order to appeal to the collegiate demographic, the White House recruited celebrities like Questlove, Jon Hamm, Rose Byrne, and Cleveland Cavaliers center Kevin Love to film spots.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown, who has addressed campus rape in the past, has some doubts:

Reading [Jeffrey] Zients’ post, I was reminded of author and professor Joel Best speaking on the hallmarks of how media hype (and the attendent bogus statistics) get promulgated: First there is a high-profile tragic event, then the need to define the event as part of an identifiable Problem (“the heroin epidemic”), and then a desire to quantify the problem so as to place it in a larger context. I put “campus rape crisis” in quotes not to diminish the seriousness of sexual assault but because I think the phrase is a prime example of the phenomenon Best describes. Rape is a problem wherever it happens, which is sometimes on campus and more frequently not. The “campus rape crisis” is a thing perpetuated by people interested in profiting from the fear in various ways.

When you make up a problem—and again, let’s be clear that I’m not saying rape, the underreporting of rape, or the way campuses handle rape is a made-up problem, but rather the idea that college campuses are some sort of rape epicenter—it is much easier to get credit for solving that problem. The White House doesn’t actually have to impact rape rates or rape prosecution rates or anything tangible, because that’s not how it has defined the problem. Its central concern is raising awareness about rape on college campus, a goal both amorphous and measurable in Facebook likes.

Meanwhile, the movement against college sexual assault continues on the campuses themselves. Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz’s mattress project is back in the news. Vanessa Grigoriadis contextualizes Sulkowicz within broader cultural trends:

A few years ago, an Ivy League student going public about her rape, telling the world her real name—let alone trying to attract attention by lugging around a mattress—would have been a rare bird. In America, after all, we still assume rape survivors want, and need, their identities protected by the press. But shattering silence, in 2014, means not just coming out with an atrocity tale about your assault but offering what Danielle Dirks, a sociologist at Occidental, calls “an atrocity tale about how poorly you were treated by the people you pay $62,500 a year to protect you.” By owning those accusations, and pointing a finger not only at assailants but also the American university, the ivory tower of privilege, these survivors have built the most effective, organized anti-rape movement since the late ’70s. Rape activists now don’t talk much about women’s self-care and protection like they did in the ’90s with Take Back the Night marches, self-defense classes, and cans of Mace. Today, the militant cry is aimed at the university: Kick the bastards out.