Section: Opinion

Controversial phrasing calls for sexual assault discussion

When I was a sophomore at Kenyon, I filed a Title IX complaint against a fellow student who sexually assaulted me at a party. The investigation process itself lasted four months, the formal hearing over 12 hours.

The process left me broken in ways I can hardly describe, which is why I found Becca Pachl’s ’19 HerCampus Kenyon article, entitled “What I Wish I’d Known About Sexual Assault as a First-Year,” problematic.

In her piece, Pachl provides cavalier commentary on Kenyon’s hook-up culture and gives her reader a list of tips about ways to avoid sexual assault on campus. I’m glad Pachl wrote this piece, because I believe we need more dialogue on campus about sexual assault. I understood every paragraph’s point, but its wording raised some concerns for me.

In this article, which is rightfully prefaced with a content warning, Pachl tells students she does not “want their Kenyon experience to be dulled or dampened by a situation like this.”

This process will not just dull or dampen your time at Kenyon — it can damn near destroy it. My grades plummeted, my friends could only be so supportive and I thought about dropping out more times than I care to admit.

I’m pleased our sexual misconduct policies have improved over the past two years — that’s a wonderful thing. But judging by the lighthearted way Pachl addresses sexual assault in her article, I think it’s time Kenyon had another discussion about the topic.

Before I continue, I’d like to clarify that I think Pachl provides excellent advice about general safety and behavior. That said, some of her comments trouble me, such as the statement that she will “address something that you will likely not find anywhere else during your orientation/first weeks,” which is “honest advice about sexual assault at Kenyon.”

Her advice is honest, but what Pachl claims to be delivering to her readers for the first time has already been addressed during Orientation via Real World: Gambier.

I’m a Sexual Misconduct Advisor (SMA) here at Kenyon, and we, along with Peer Counselors (PCs) and Discrimination Advisors (DAs,) were assigned to individual first-year halls to hold a discussion with the new students about sexual assault on campus.

In these talks, we answered questions and discussed the finer points of the Title IX policy at Kenyon, so I know firsthand that these students were exposed to honest advice about sexual advice during their Orientation.

This point is not made in an attempt to silence Pachl from sharing her advice. In fact, I think we should share more advice about sexual assault. I simply wish she had surveyed the outreach efforts already being made before she made such a statement.

The third issue I took with Pachl’s article actually stems from a compliment I have for her piece. She gives the readers an abundance of information about how they can help their friends who might find themselves in a compromising situation.

However, upon reading layers of information about how I should have my friends synced with me on my iPhone’s “Find My Friends” app, how I shouldn’t let them go home with someone if they’re drunk or how we should have a code word whenever we go out, I was disheartened because Pachl gave me impractical advice.

In some cases, her advice is even impossible. Not all my friends have smartphones, so I can’t keep tabs on them, and it’s hard to hear your friend asking you a question in a crowded Old Kenyon basement — let alone hear “tomato” or some other code word.

I wanted to love Pachl’s advice, because I want to be a more proactive community member who works to prevent sexual assault, but her advice isn’t always accessible. The article left me feeling guilty and hopeless.

But I know that’s not the point of this article. Pachl is trying to help people. I just think the way she’s discussing sexual assault here is symptomatic of a larger problem of victim blaming we have on campus.

My intent with this article was not to discourage Pachl or other students from writing about sexual assault. In fact, I’m responding to her piece in order to encourage the opposite.

I believe conversations are the only way we can improve the way our campus views sexual assault. I think Pachl’s piece did an excellent job igniting a discussion, and I commend her for her work.       


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