Another year of freshman orientations and house team trainings have gone by. In addition to a few new programs, some Vassar classics were brought back, one of them being The Hookup. Us upperclassmen remember The Hookup as being a fun and interactive program where we learned about the prevalent nature of sexual assault on college campuses. However, this year seemed a bit different. The amount of respect and consideration for survivors of sexual assaults decreased dramatically, contributing to an hour and a half long program filled with inappropriate jokes that had a distinct possibility of triggering many people in the audience.
I want to preface this argument by saying that being a male who has never been a victim of sexual assault, I recognize that other people with different identities, specifically female-identified survivors, should have more of a voice in this space. However, as current House Student Advisor for Jewett House who has sat through The Hookup for three years now, I do feel comfortable talking about the different reactions from the audience members. The attitude in the room this year seemed to be much more charged with a sexist attitude toward women specifically.
I understand that one of the activities centers around the types of words used to describe men and women who are sexually active. Yet the point that women face an immense amount of sexualized environments created by almost exclusively male-identified people was never made by the speaker. A lot of the freshmen in the room, most of them being, from what I observed, male, seemed to be perfectly content yelling out these derogatory gendered phrases. Doing so, however, is both counterproductive and potentially revictimizing to women in the room who have been subjected to, and continue to be subject to, this hurtful and violent language.
It’s important to note at this point that one significant difference in this year’s program compared to previous years was the speaker. For the last two years, the speaker was a woman who identified as queer and revealed that she is a survivor of sexual assault. The speaker for this year’s program was a white woman whose method of presentation contributed to the unruly behavior of many audience members. The speaker, of course, did not help the situation when she herself was complicit in the slew of rape jokes being thrown around during the program. The atmosphere in the room just seemed different compared to previous years.
By the end of the program, myself and many members of the audience, most of them being other members of House Team, were extremely uncomfortable with the space and the attitude in the room. Yet probably the most concerning part of the program was the feedback that I received from members of the incoming class.
A lot of people I talked to felt that the program did a great job addressing the issues of sexual assault on campus. I understood that these students were new to Vassar and came from various environments before college, but I was still in a bit of shock. How anyone could find that program appropriate was astounding to me. I do not want to invalidate anyone’s opinions, especially those of survivors, who might have felt empowered by the program. I simply feel that it is not what the incoming class needed to hear during their first week at Vassar College.
What Vassar needs to look for is alternative forms of programs surrounding sexual assault on college campuses—other than ones that focuses solely on jokes. One such alternative is the We Are Here bystander intervention program. Created by students of Vassar College over the course of this past summer, We Are Here strives to teach listeners about the importance of bystander intervention during crisis situations. Rather than just focusing on the attitudes surrounding sexual assault, We Are Here gives concrete, practical ways to combat sexual assault. And personally, I would take bystander intervention over the Blocktapus any day.
-Christopher Brown ’16 is a political science major.