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We’re as mad as hell

| Thursday, September 3, 2015

It took one week, five hours and 44 minutes.

Not fully eight days after the first Notre Dame freshmen began moving into their new homes, we received the year’s first alert of a sexual assault on campus.

Two days later, Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) sent the year’s second email, this time informing students of two reported acts of sexual violence.

With three reports of sexual assault or battery in fewer than two weeks — the first two weeks — frankly, we’re as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.

Those words, which come from the 1976 film “Network,” are just about the only way we can accurately express our reaction to last weekend’s reports. Everyone — students, faculty, staff and all members of the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s community — should have been deeply and personally offended and enraged to learn of these attacks on campus.

We should still be mad, too. When any act of sexual violence occurs on campus, we, as a community, have failed. And with the timing considered, a few short months after the release of “The Hunting Ground” and the productive dialogue it generated, these most recent failures are particularly infuriating.

We can only hope the increased discourse on sexual assault that began last semester is part of what empowered the survivors of these recent assaults to come forward and report the attacks. If it is, then our community has made some progress in cultivating an environment in which survivors of sexual assault feel safe enough to seek the justice they deserve.

And we should continuously strive to build our community as a safe, empowering space, but we should work for more, too. We should live in a community where survivors feel safe, but we should also create a community safe enough to prevent future attacks.

In our final staff editorial of last school year, we as an editorial board vowed to continue the conversation on sexual assault. Now, at the beginning of a new year, it has quickly become apparent that this conversation is still needed, perhaps more than ever. Accept this, our first staff editorial of this school year, as a tangible sign we have not given up on this conversation or the issue of sexual violence in our community.

It has become apparent, too, that a conversation about sexual assault is not sufficient. Discussion is illuminating and emboldening, but it can only go so far. The current situation — characterized by media across the nation as a campus sexual assault epidemic — demands action from all members of the community, particularly from the bottom up.

The unfortunate truth is there is no single solution to the egregious problem of campus sexual assault. Nor will any combination of solutions work overnight.

In the days since NDSP’s emails, we have seen a bevvy of proposed solutions on these pages and elsewhere. Some have been more outlandish than others, but with such a persistent and troubling issue, we are open to new ideas, and the beginning of this year has brought with it many promising solutions.

Saint Mary’s resource groups utilize Green Dot training, a national program designed to empower bystanders to take action and prevent violence before it happens. This year, Green Dot has partnered with student government at Notre Dame. Practices of active bystander intervention and the importance of consent play an important role in the new Moreau First-Year Experience courses. Notre Dame’s student government is continuing its involvement in the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign to prevent sexual assault.

Participating in established programs like these is an excellent step in fighting the campus sexual assault issue, but we still urge all members of the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s communities to do more. Don’t just sign a pledge for “It’s On Us”; take its message to heart and make sexual assault a deeply personal issue.

Get mad when an act of sexual violence occurs on campus and use that anger to take real, tangible steps — no matter how small — to prevent the next attack. Refuse to take part in a culture that passively allows sexual assault to happen in our campus community.

That sounds like a massive task, and it is. But we must start with small steps that work against what many scholars and activists call the rape culture that exists on college campuses and beyond. Talk to your friends, or anyone who will listen, about the issue. Introduce it as a topic of class discussion. Point out when others around you make insensitive or harmful jokes about rape and articulate why such attitudes are legitimately harmful. The way we talk about the issue matters.

There is no one big, end-all-be-all solution to the campus sexual assault crisis. Rather, there are a multitude of smaller solutions that, put together, will work towards a true cultural shift and a campus community that can last much longer than two weeks without a report of sexual assault.

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