Was I surprised? No, and that's sad. I'm outraged that I wasn't surprised but that so many people were. All I have to say is, OPEN YOUR EYES. Start looking around you, and please intervene where you can to point out the blatant acts, tweets, words, posts, songs, posters and media that feed into rape culture. This isn't just a SMU "problem."
I am a graduate student in the women and gender studies program at SMU, and I have undergraduate degree in criminology from SMU. I've been here seven years, but it didn't take me seven years to become aware of the many acts of sexism, racism, homophobia, classism and ableism that occurs here, and the inherent patriarchal structure of this school. I knew before I came.
How did an 18-year-old from the middle-of-nowhere Cape Breton have this insight? Because acts that come out of these "isms" and perpetuate rape culture present themselves everywhere! So I had my awareness eyes on and ears open, and my voice ready to attempt in my own way to combat the bad shit that people say and do.
At SMU, there are no conversations going on about consent, oppression or social justice. This needs to start happening at the student association and administration level, and carried to the students. Working with the Women's Centre, Black Student Advisors, Atlantic Centre, Aboriginal Student Advisors, the International Student Centre and the general student body, SMUSA and SMU administration could develop great programming and events aimed at educating and discussing these issues.
University is supposed to be a place where minds come to be exercised, to think critically---not to memorize or be "trained." It is supposed to be a place where minds are prepared to exist in, and be critical about "the real world." So, SMU, can you start doing that?
A lot of universities embrace their women's centres: funding them, allowing for full time staff, working with them to sponsor, promote and provide amazing much-needed programming, conferences and events. But we at the SMU Women's Centre have to beg and become incessantly annoying to get any of our events even Facebook-shared by SMUSA. Support does not come easy or willingly. Continually, we are fighting a battle to receive event funding that any society can apply for, but we were initially denied it for two great events last year---The Vagina Monologues and Consentfest. Continually, we are being told we cannot pay our coordinators or provide honourariums to our board members, even though we have a levy in place (which the students voted for) to do so. Continually, we are fighting to just be known on campus---we were denied our name on the Student Centre directory, and it is like pulling teeth to get anyone to mention us to students who might benefit.
We are constantly being told how we can and cannot market our space and services. Specifically, we are not to use the term "safe space," because, ya know, that means the rest of campus isn't safe. Well duh. You nailed it SMUSA and Public Relations department.
The Women's Centre just wants a relationship with the university and our student government. We want SMUSA to work with us, which in turn would lead to a lot of very problematic things they do being addressed and reworked (e.g. event posters such as "Coors Light Cold Party" and "Dirty Bingo"). We want to foster positive discussions on campus about sex and consent.
More than anything, we want to help change the culture that exists at SMU. That starts with some REAL apologies, and commitments towards change and getting educated. Stop clouding the issue with phrases like "non-consensual sex," "we are sorry you were offended," "we didn't really think about the message," "it was all in good fun," "we never meant to hurt anyone." Hiding behind these words does not demonstrate that SMUSA---and SMU as a whole---will work toward change, awareness, or education.
As a student, I need to know that my school takes issues like rape seriously. I need to know that their (re)actions are not just in response to the threat of losing their jobs, tarnishing their names and reputations or a surface cover-up fix. I need to see real change. We need to start talking about consent and work on fostering an environment at SMU where people can get educated about sexual violence, consent and issues of oppression and social justice, AND feel comfortable to speak up.
So, SMU and SMUSA, are you ready to chat?
Janis Wall is a women and gender studies student, and a tea-, kitty- and bunny-loving feminist.
Send your essay ideas for consideration to email@example.com