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Bring taboo topics to the table every day

| Tuesday, September 1, 2015

I was early to class. It was our second time meeting as a group. One of my peers sat a few chairs down, turned and asked my name. Our conversation continued cordially, discussing the past summer and our future plans. The natural lull arrived, and she reached for her phone, ready to scroll. I paused, took a breath and said, “Can I ask you a personal question?” She looked back. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” I added.

“Of course,” my classmate replied.

“Did you read the NDSP email? Why do you think this is happening?”

A pause.

Our conversation went deep quickly. We talked about alcohol, blurred lines, policy issues. I brought up pornography and our culture of immediate self-gratification and the role of technology in relationships. We brushed on philosophy and people being used as means rather than ends. Our words had purpose. We recognized the gravity of the issue of sexual assault on our campus as well as its complexity.

And then another student walked in, another face we did not know. We kept talking, but our words changed. No longer did we mention sexual assault, perpetrators, pornography. Our tones softened. The discourse became generic and soon ended.

I recounted this to a friend. He said I was bold to ask a stranger something so personal, that those situations can be too uncomfortable for others. Maybe this is a problem we can add to the list.

The more we avoid conversations, the more likely it is that assaults will continue to occur. Public discourse about sexual assault is good, but if it is an issue we really care about, why are we not discussing it in normal conversations? To go beyond just raising awareness or expressing concern, how we can actually create an atmosphere that works against sexual assault?

It makes us squirm as we acknowledge how much we contribute to this culture — it should. But the words exchanged between students are stronger than ideas published, and they last longer than lectures.

We live at a university that encourages dialogue, and it is time for our dialogue to encourage the University.

Ellen Dahlby


Lewis Hall

Sept. 1

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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