For many freshmen arriving to college, the advice of upperclassmen can be invaluable.
They tell us which professor to take for our massive introductory courses and where to find the cheapest textbooks on campus; if we are lucky they warn us to wear shoes in the shower to avoid foot fungi.
While I appreciated the “College for Dummies” tips, I didn’t know they would include advice on how to avoid being raped in college. I expected I would need directions on how to get to classes, but I wasn’t expecting to be cautioned on where not to walk at night. I was shocked to learn that the infamous Lakeshore path in Madison is referred to here instead as Rapeshore path, and that walking this path alone at night is equal to an invitation of the latter. While I knew that fraternities were a big part of college life, I didn’t realize I would have to be hypervigilant walking by them past 7 p.m.
Before even arriving on campus, most students are required to complete some sort of sexual violence prevention and safe alcohol consumption course. To my surprise, for some students this was the first time they had learned about sexual violence, considering some were actually victims of it. Their high school’s administration never mentioned Title IX in the context of protecting students from sexual violence, even though K-12 public schools are required to do so under federal law. Most students know that Title IX states that students may not be discriminated against on the basis of sex. They know they deserve equal participation in sports, classes, and clubs. But too many don’t know that Title IX also protects students from sexual violence because the presence of it obstructs our right toward receiving an education that is equal regardless of sex.
It is widely known that one in five women experience sexual assault in college, but this is a rough estimate as this crime is largely underreported. This fact has reverberated through numerous news stories in the past several years. Clearly rape culture is an institutionalized phenomenon. Why is college the first time many people learn about consent and sexual violence in a formal setting? Sexual violence does not start the day high school seniors become college freshmen. It is the responsibility of K-12 education to begin these conversations rather than remaining complacently silent, pretending or truly unaware that it is a K-12 issue too.
It is time for high schools to stop treating sexual violence and issues of sexual assault as university problems. Students don’t automatically become assailants after they graduate from high school. The systems of oppression, objectification, and institutional sexism start early and all contribute to the rape culture we live in, a culture in which even the smallest microaggressions compile to create a mentality that trivializes sexual violence.
This culture starts in our classrooms in elementary school — which in the spirit of teaching inclusiveness fails to teach boys to ask for consent prior to physical contact. The culture continues in middle school when girls are told to wear an oversized cotton shirt during the swim unit, which inherently objectifies the woman’s body.
Whether the adults in our schools and government want to believe it or not, date rape, dating violence, sexual assault, and rape happen in high school, and instead of working toward preventing this and creating a culture of respect we are following a “don’t ask don’t tell” protocol that silences survivors and allows for perpetrators to continue without fear of repercussion. College is too late of a start for students to start learning about these issues. The reality is stark in that these heinous acts happen before people leave their nests and come to college. They happen on the playground, in the bathrooms, in the locker rooms, and sometimes even in the classroom.
Title IX does not apply solely to higher education. The students in K-12 are not blissfully ignorant of this happening and it is time for the adults to realize they cannot be either because it is costing us our health. It is my hope that their “College for Dummies” is abridged to not include a guide to not getting raped.
Prevention cannot start after the problem is already institutionalized. It is my hope that when this year’s kindergarteners pack up their lives 13 years from now to go to college, they are not also carrying the baggage of institutionalized rape culture that exists because our K-12 public schools negligently denied its existence.
Jessica Melnik is a first-year student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She is a graduate of Hopkins High School.
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