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Yes means yes

| Tuesday, September 9, 2014

As we approach another weekend on this campus, and others across the nation, I’m worried. I’m worried that I might receive an alert saying a woman has been sexually assaulted on campus. Our campus, as far as I know, is not one of those being investigated as non-responsive. But that is no comfort. We all should be disquieted, even outraged, when we look at the evidence.

For example, my worry was heightened recently when I read about a United Nations report that said one in 10 young women around the world will experience sexual assault by the time they turn 20 years old. Some studies of college campuses report even higher figures. The problem, research indicates, crosses social classes and geographical boundaries. It’s everywhere. Here too.

So what should we do? I can think of many things, including continuing difficult but respectful conversations about gender relations, dorm life and alcohol abuse, but we might start by reframing the issue. Earlier campaigns to prevent sexual assault promoted a moral slogan — no means no.

More recently, another phrase — yes means yes — has entered the conversation, as when a new California legislative proposal invoked the “affirmative, unambiguous and conscious consent” of both parties as the legal guideline. On this campus, and others affiliated with religious traditions, this affirmative approach might be less effective, though the focus on what we want to affirm seems like a good place to start.

What do we affirm? On this and other Catholic campuses, we talk a lot about the dignity of the person and the importance of peace. That means, it seems to me, we are obliged to prevent violence in all its forms, from bullying to armed conflict, and sexual assault is violence. Like many on this campus, I care deeply about peace building around the world, but I also feel called to attend to the violence nearby. Peace building begins at home.

So as we face the prospect of another weekend on this campus that feels like home to so many of us, perhaps we might ponder our own understanding of that new moral dictum, yes means yes. Perhaps it might help to think about the ways principle calls us to consistently affirm and vigilantly enact our shared commitment to non-violence. 

Thomas A. Tweed

W. Harold and Martha Welch Endowed Chair of American Studies
Faculty Fellow, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies

Sept. 8

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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