A weight we all must carry

We need men to be engaged in the dialogue and efforts against sexual violence

By The Vision and Victoria Ford

Last Thursday, editors at The Daily Pennsylvanian contested the use of trigger warnings in the classroom with this declaration: “We have come to Penn because we want to be challenged — to have our perspectives tested and refined. That sometimes requires that we grapple with material that we find disagreeable or even disgusting. Anything less would fall short of a true education.”

When divorced from the topic of trigger warnings, I stand in solidarity with this statement. As a black woman at this university and in this country, all I have ever yearned for was a “true education,” a record of the Ida Elizabeth Asburys that made my voice and my existence in this place possible.

But the thing about being a woman is that I don’t need to be at Penn to be challenged, and this has nothing to do with “material.” Every day my identity requires me to grapple with the reality that sexual violence on this campus has become normalized. It is not just “disagreeable” or “disgusting,” but emotionally damaging and life-threatening. My body is still not safe here.

There is a convers ation about our responsibility for healing those who endure sexual violence that we don’t want to have. There is “material” that we don’t have to analyze in the classroom, but experiences many of us carry once we leave these parties, on our walks to study, to eat, to sleep, to learn, to live. While many of us make claims about wanting to have uncomfortable conversations, dialogues about sexual violence remain largely overlooked by men.

Earlier this month Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz began carrying a mattress around her campus as a part of an endurance performing arts piece. It is an attempt to document and make manifest the unimaginable violence Sulkowicz endured from her alleged rapist. While anyone can offer to help her carry the mattress, one of Sulkowicz’s rules is that she can’t ask for help carrying that weight.

But truth is, here I am asking — men, can you help us? Can you help us carry the reality of sexual violence, each and every day?

I recently asked a friend of mine to make an announcement about sexual violence at a party. I asked if he might — in whatever way he saw fit — make mention that violence of any kind was prohibited. I was grateful to receive an update from the event’s Facebook page that read, “Sexual assault is not allowed.”

This victory did not come easy. Quite a few of my male friends laughed when I mentioned the update. If you have to make an announcement like that at your party, someone said, then why would anyone want to go? I do not mean to make mockery of their reactions or this question, because I too ask it often.

We have the tendency to believe that sexual assault doesn’t affect us, that it happens to other people but certainly not to our friends, not at our parties, not by our people. This is a dirty lie. The longer we buy into it and coddle our ignorance, the longer we smother each other.

Violence has never been a comfortable subject, it has never been an easy thing to wear, and yet here we are at Penn experiencing violence every day, and none of the people who really can help make this better and safer want to talk about it.

But my brothers , we need you to talk about it. If we have come to one of the greatest universities in the world to be truly challenged, to become leaders, then perhaps here is an opportunity where we can lay it all out and get uncomfortable enough to want to make this experience safe for every living body. Sexual violence cannot continue to be a collection of stories told by women to other women. We need your help. Right here and right now. Stand with us. Please.

If you would like to get in contact with Penn’s University Title IX Coordinator to learn more about sexual violence and assault, please contact Sam Starks at ?sstarks@upenn.edu.

Victoria Ford is a College senior from Piedmont, S.C., studying English. Her email address is vicford@sas.upenn.edu. “The Vision” appears every Wednesday. 

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