Checking Facebook reminds me of a world simultaneously inclined toward our distaste for in-person communication and our appetite for light-hearted humor. This is especially evident on a page called Columbia Crushes 2.0. Scrolling through the day’s posts, I find myself truly curious to see if that person with the blue shirt (you know, the one on College Walk) could be tracked down.
Yet on this tired-eyed night, my curious and lighthearted mood when reading the day’s “crushes” fizzles away as if I have just received a “hey u up” text. I read a post that illustrates a darker side of Columbia’s not-so-light-hearted campus culture: “That guy who took a chick to her McBain dorm on friday [sic] night and tried to bang her but decided not to because she was way too wasted and instead stayed up all night sitting on a chair beside her to look after her. Thanks for not being an [sic] horrible human being who rapes unconscious women. (I’m not her, btw, I’m just someone who knows this happened). I want to buy you a cup of coffee for being a gentleman.”
My curiosity immediately transforms into true anger: The words contain archaic threads of rape culture and power dynamics, weaving a grotesque yet unfortunately not unfamiliar image of the conversations and conceptions we as a community have about sexual boundaries and assault. So allow me to unravel the messages this post conveys.
The interaction in this post neglects the role of communication, exposing issues of consent. I imagine the expressed interaction in my head: A guy walking a woman (human beings are not chicks) back home while both are not sober, so neither that guy or girl is in a position to give consent in the first place. Therefore, it seems like the walk back to her dorm should stop with him leaving her in her room. Wait—he “tries” to “bang her”—which, given the lack of consent of both parties, illuminates a greater culture of disregard for sexual boundaries. After all, “tried” could range from zero physical contact to unsuccessful penetration. But the potential manifestations of “tries” in this circumstance are unimportant. The fact of the matter is this: Any manifestation of “tries” is one too many; only a sober yes is a yes—no more, no less. She was not in a position to consent and neither was that guy. Do not “try.”
What’s that? That guy’s true character flourishes in the selfless act of staying with her all night? The desire to glorify these kind actions manipulates male-female power dynamics, especially when we talk about changing sexual assault education on Columbia’s campus. Instead of solely having sexual assault education centered on collective bystander and intervention tactics, we also need education centered on how-not-to-rape that educates each individual on what rape and consent mean in social contexts. Rewarding the behavior of that guy with a public shoutout may shift conversations of sexual assault at Columbia in which guys feel as though they should be heroes and “save” women who may have sacrificed consciousness after a night out. I couldn’t help but notice that girls I know, myself included, have spent nights looking after their friends, but I do not see posts giving them shoutouts. Looking after someone after a long night is kindness, and the public admiration someone receives should not be dependent on their pronouns.
Most importantly, this post highlights a horrifying aspect of Columbia’s conversations around sexual assault: its tendency to applaud mediocrity. “Not being someone who rapes unconscious women” should not, in any universe, be praiseworthy. But here at Columbia University, it is. No, that guy is not a gentleman solely for respecting a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, and no, having basic decency should not garner public adoration; having basic decency when it comes to sexual assault should be our standard. What’s next? “I didn’t rape someone!” stickers (or, more fittingly: crowns) given out at campus events?
Sure, tell me how analyzing this post is flawed. How do we know what really happened between these two people? Perhaps this entire piece has no meaning if we do not know “who that guy is.” In response, I would like to say:
It doesn’t matter who “that guy is” because the story of “that guy” is representative of the problems surrounding conversations of sexual assault on campus. It doesn’t matter who that guy is because I know too many women who have had their bodily autonomy violated on campus. It doesn’t matter who “that guy” is because April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and our social standards must be as high as our intellectual standards. It doesn’t matter who “that guy” is because my mom told me, on our way home from getting college supplies, that 1 in 3 three women will be assaulted in their lives; I was that 1 in 3; my two younger sisters were not in the back seat.
The author is an associate editorial page editor for Spectator and a first-year at Barnard majoring in English with minors in education studies and philosophy. At any given time of the day, you can find her laughing at her own jokes, drinking bubble tea, and discussing big ideas.