By Dan Hitchen
From the start of her lecture, successful activist, writer and educator Stephanie Gilmore made sure to give credit to college students around the country for spearheading the movement against sexual violence on campuses.
The talk, sponsored by the Women’s Center, took place on Tuesday, Nov. 18, in the Library Auditorium.
Gilmore unabashedly spoke to students on issues of sexual violence in various areas of our lives and culture — in sports, in college and in our own homes.
It’s an issue, she said, that has been on activists’ radars since the ’70s and hasn’t gone away yet.
She backed her statement up with countless modern day instances, demonstrating how rape culture has pervaded college campuses.
“We’ve really started to see this proliferation of rape culture coming into public conversation, especally around sexual violence after the assault at Duke,” Gilmore said, regarding the 2006 trial in which three lacrosse players were wrongly accused of raping a woman. The charges were ultimately dismissed.
She continued to cite other examples of rape culture that the country has seen in recent years, such as the Ben Roethlisberger and the Ray Rice cases. The Rice case happened this past year, and “one commentator suggested that the lesson to be learned was to next time take the stairs,” after Rice assaulted his wife in an elevator, according to Gilmore.
One of the issues that Gilmore brought up — a letter sent out to Georgia Tech pledges titled “Luring Your Rapebait” — especially hit a chord with one audience member, Kat Wan, a freshman biomedical engineering major. The letter explained demeaning ways that men could pick up women at parties.
“I don’t know if it was surprising or not,” Wan said. “I just think its sad that someone would put their entire future at risk just to promote something like rape culture to other pledges.”
It’s these kinds of cases that Gilmore said create a culture where rape and sexual violence are seen as facts of life, things that can’t be avoided.
“I think we should stay aware of our surroundings,” Wan said. “ I don’t think we should be complacent with accepting that things just are going to happen. We shouldn’t get comfortable with the idea that sexual violence is just a part of life.”
Gilmore acknowledged that there are college students who reject the promotion or acceptance of rape culture as a part of life.
Gilmore referred to a protest at Dickinson College that occurred in 2011 as a prime example of students who she believes are leading the movement against sexual violence in college.
“These students were standing outside of the admissions office, and not only were the Board of Trustees on campus, but new students and their parents were, too, and here are students chanting about sexual violence,” Gilmore said. “That was pretty clever.”
It’s these types of students who Gilmore trusts with keeping alive the movement for which she gave up her job as a college professor — a movement she wants as many people to be as passionate about as she is.
Still, for Gilmore, her most important job remains listening to and working with college students on issues small and large.
“I think it is incredibly important that we think about, talk about, and do the work of activism — as difficult as it can be and as hard as it often is for us,” she said.