Sexual assault awareness needs more collaboration if progress is to continue

A sign made by one of the marchers is waved above the crowd during the march. The ASUO Women’s Center and Sexual Assault Support Services of Lane County presented Take Back the Night in Eugene, Ore. on Thursday, April 30, 2015. (Eve Hess/Emerald)

The following is the opinion of the Emerald editorial board and not the organization as a whole. The editorial board is: Bayley Sandy, opinion editor; Sami Edge, editor in chief; Eder Campuzano, director of audience engagement; Kenneth Osborn, art director; Nik Streng and Kira Hoffelmeyer, managing editors. Hoffelmeyer is also a member of Kappa Alpha Theta.

The University of Oregon community has had a rough year.

Last May, the Eugene Police Department released a report detailing allegations that three UO men’s basketball players had raped a female student.

Sexual assault on college campuses has been a national issue for some time, but this is the event that forced the UO to make it a priority.

Protesters stormed Johnson Hall to demand a change. We did the same within the pages of the newspaper. And administrators and the student government appointed groups to tackle the issue.

Things are getting better.

The UO is hiring a new vice president to better coordinate sexual assault prevention and response efforts on an administrative level. The university also gathered notable students to produce a video that affirms the notion that it’s on all of us to help end sexual violence.

Groups like the Organization Against Sexual Assault are aiding the efforts of existing institutions like the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team and the Women’s Center in educating the community and spearheading assault prevention in a grassroots manner.

Just last week, the School of Journalism and Communication and SWAT co-hosted a screening of The Hunting Ground, an HBO documentary that explores the issue of sexual assault.

The film played to a packed house. It was encouraging to see that there’s a continued interest in learning about sexual assault and discussing how to address it as a community. Plenty of folks participated in the conversation following the screening as well. That was fantastic.

Unfortunately, that earnest dialogue turned negative after the film when a man in the audience asked UO psychology professor and sexual assault researcher Jennifer Freyd about her definition of consent. Some attendees told him to shut up and leave.

When advocates respond this way, people reject the positive message. History has proven that the most outspoken members of any group are the ones who are remembered, not often for the better.

We recognize that vocal extremists don’t represent advocates as a whole. In fact, the leaders of the advocacy groups were very tolerant, understanding and collaborative.

Freyd, rather than attacking him, invited him to discuss his confusion one-on-one.

Creating a hostile culture — whether it’s freely telling rape jokes or shouting at people who are confused — is the opposite of progress. Freyd’s approach highlighted how progress will occur — with patience, persistence and education.

There have been multiple instances when opportunities for education and action turned ugly.

One of the UO Senate’s Task Force on Sexual Assault’s recommendations to the administration was to limit the expansion of Fraternity and Sorority Life after it was found that members of those student groups report sexual assault in higher numbers than their peers.

That spurred the ASUO Senate to consider a similar recommendation. What followed was a meeting filled with hostile conversations that utilized stereotypes to condemn FSL. Fortunately, the student senate pulled the resolution from consideration.

But the fervor exhibited at that meeting is emblematic of the problems we see in too many approaches. Rather than throwing the book at FSL, we must aim to help the organization solve those problems.

Hostility doesn’t solve anything — cooperation does. We implore anyone who’s raised torches and pitchforks in the movement to end sexual assault to extend an olive branch instead.

Let FSL benefit from your knowledge and cooperation. Give sorority and fraternity presidents the tools they need to educate their fellow members.

Adversarial behavior alienates. It drives us apart. We should aim to empathize and educate if we want to move forward.

Sexual assault prevention is not as easy as hunting down a problem student and expelling him or her. Or shutting down one particular group or club that’s been proven to perpetually commit sexual violence. There are no obvious villains or dark figures stalking our campus seeking to do harm.

Solving this problem requires a shift in attitudes.

It’s been a long year, but we’ve seen progress. Things are getting better. But we need to realize that we all want the same things.

We all want to feel safe on campus. We want to look at sex in a positive light, not deal with it in a criminal capacity. And we want to trust that our fellow students, campus leaders and administrators are working to make those a reality.

We can get there. We just need to do a better job of working together to get it done.