The Obama Administration’s new campaign against sexual assault on college campuses is commendable. The Yale administration’s support for the movement and Yale students’ enthusiastic response (judging by the nearly 1,000 likes on the Facebook page and the more than 30 student groups that have posted pictures thus far) suggest that the Yale community, from the top down and the bottom up, is committed to fostering dialogue around sexual assault and improving Yale’s sexual culture.
The campaign’s strength lies in the fact that it relies on student groups, small communities in which individual students are invested, where peers are not just classmates but friends, role models, or mentees. The genuine affection and respect within these self-selecting groups makes it more likely that participants will perceive these dialogues as socially accepted and encouraged.
The program is well-intentioned, and it is important that student groups continue to convene to discuss and promote the campaign. However, the conversations I’ve heard on campus about “It’s On Us” are discouraging. They sound a lot like what one hears about the “Bystander Intervention” and “Myth of Miscommunication” programs. The ones that bother me most go something like this: “I’m glad we have the programs because I think these are topics that should be discussed, but I don’t need it. I’m not a perpetrator. What they’re saying is just common sense. Plus, it’s a little bit boring and a little bit awkward.” Shirking individual responsibility defeats the purpose of a campaign like “It’s On Us.” It seems that we are having trouble turning the motto from “It’s On Us” to “It’s On Me.”
Many of us don’t feel the need to recognize our individual responsibility to the cause, either because (in typical Yale fashion) we see ourselves as exceptional, or because no one else seems to be doing it. After all, when you have hard conversations with yourself, there are no cameras or posters or t-shirts or pins. There are no pats on the back and Facebook likes to keep you going. It is exactly this socially conscious mindset that ends up (unintentionally) condoning sexual assault: how many high fives or knowing smiles or “I hear you have stories to tell ;)” texts does a person receive when he or she respectfully agrees to end the night early? None, in my experience. There is a pressure on people to engage in sexual activity (perpetuated by their peers, often without malicious intent), even when it might not be the right choice for them.
I’m not saying that “It’s On Us” is not worthwhile. It is. I’m saying that, after the picture has been taken and the resolution written, the individual members of these student groups need to reflect, alone, on how they want their future sexual encounters to be. Make an “Our Yale” and a “My Yale.” This way, the next time I am faced with a tough choice or an ambiguous situation, I can remind myself that I am not an exception to the rule. That it’s on me.