Throughout last semester, Sarah Lawrence College’s campus was a heated and upset one. Protests and marches regarding the safety of students and the climate of campus were being held monthly, and smaller groups of citizens were formed left and right to try and address the issues head on. It was hard to walk around campus without being reminded that “NO MEANS NO!” and that “consent to one act is not consent to all acts”. A call to arms of sorts was brought to the administration, demanding change and recognition and our campus was in uproar. Our voices were heard and Karen Lawrence, President of Sarah Lawrence College, called a school wide meeting that took place on the North Lawn, where hundreds of faces gathered together for what seemed like the largest congregation of Sarah Lawrence community members ever. Safety, change and other promises were made; however all in all, students left the lawn feeling little more than let down.
Now here we are, in March, and the college is coming through, or at least trying. Dina Nunziato, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Health Services and Paige Crandall, Dean of Student Affairs, have been making efforts to reinstate a sense of security not only in the students and campus life, but in the willingness of the administration to hear what community members are concerned about. Because of this, the college hired Mike Domitrz to come to campus on Monday, February 10th and give his consent workshop entitled “Can I Kiss You?” as part of the date safe project. A total of only forty students showed up for the 7p.m. consent workshop, the change the campus had been asking for just months before.
The idea that social justice, advocacy and caring about our fellow community members was but a fleeting spark of passion due to unjust situations is not one that the Sarah Lawrence community should strive to embody or uphold. Just because time has passed, does not mean the problems have disappeared and by not participating as a community, we create a climate that allows for the “social justice fad” to exist, and we all know that is not something we want to associate ourselves with.
A trend that Domitrz spoke about in his workshop was the concept of hookup culture, specifically about how it doesn’t actually exist. Because so many people in our generation adhere to a certain set of cultural norms, and the sexual education we receive is so limited in what we can do, as opposed to the long list of things we can’t do, we’ve entered into an era of silent sex. The stigmatizing of communication during sexual encounters in fear that it might “ruin the moment”, a concept which Domitrz also claims does not exist, has brought us to a place where miscommunication is almost unavoidable. When we look at the lack of communication between sexual partners, and factor in the social pressures that keep outsiders from interfering in potentially dangerous situations, such as the idea of “cockblocking” or remaining uninvolved to avoid confrontation, it is easy to see the flawed unwritten rules which govern a lot of the ways that we interact with each other. This system is hypocritical at the very least, where “stand by and watch” is normalized in party and hookup culture, yet as soon as someone has been raped, the gut reaction is to inflict harm on the perpetrator.
The real question here is why don’t we just use our words? If the “magic” moment is just that, a fleeting period of time in which our partner wants us in the same way that we want them, won’t the same be true after the question is asked? It takes more courage to ask, because you put yourself at risk of rejection, instead of just going for it. Asking your partner also lets them know that you respect them and their body enough to check in with them. Surprisingly enough (or not), I’ve spoken with lots of students here at SLC who have said that they have received negative responses from some of their partners who did not want to be asked. Unfortunately, these reactions are part of the problem and are, in a way, propagating the rape culture that we find coincides with our current hook up culture. By making it so that our partners feel uncomfortable asking for fear of being made fun of or berated, we close the very streams of communication we need to have open in order to have enthusiastic and consensual sex, before anything has even really happened. Communication is key when exploring other people’s bodies, and if you feel like it’s too awkward to talk about, than you and your partner may not be ready to be doing it.
It takes a community to make change, and as community members it is our responsibility to put in the same amount of footwork as we expect our superiors, colleagues and peers to put in. This means we cannot stand by if we see a dangerous situation unfolding, and we cannot just passively accept that SLC could be a better place. This is a call for continuing to proceed with the groundwork that has been laid before us and building a community, which is safe and consensual, both in and outside of our sex lives.