Rather than addressing campus sexual assaults directly, the first sessions of the weeklong summit largely focused on the broader context in which colleges must deal with sexual crimes – the federal regulations governing how colleges react to sexual assaults, as well as the larger culture that normalizes gender violence.Round up the usual suspects.
“Sexual assault on college campuses is a public health problem that affects all of us,” said Jean Kilbourne, a media critic and filmmaker. “We need to pay attention to the environment. Just as it’s difficult to be healthy physically in a toxic environment, it’s the same with sexual assault in an environment that is culturally toxic.”Businesses, particularly businesses that aren't part of the university, and entertainers make easier targets than the pernicious notions of if-it-feels-good-do-it or transgressivity that provide the structure of gut courses and victim studies departments.
Kilbourne has been studying advertising and its messages for decades; she said she believes advertising has never been more problematic in its depiction of sexuality and violence. Women are constantly depicted as objects, as being in danger, or as disparate body parts, she said. Grown women are infantilized, young girls are sexualized, and men are often depicted as controlling and even violent.
When those depictions are targeted at college students to sell products like alcohol, Kilbourne said, the message can be dangerous.
“Marketers create a toxic cultural environment on college campuses that make sexual assault more likely,” she said.
Sut Jhally, a media critic and communications professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, compared colleges’ growing awareness of the issue to “getting fish to see the water.” It’s slow, but the good news is that more people in higher education are starting to “see the water,” said Jhally.Perhaps because it isn't simply taking on beer companies that make their money selling colored water in blue cans to dumb guys, or the Greek letter organizations with influential alumni, or even the culture-studies faculty. It might be easier to organize presidential task forces, as new Northern Illinois president Doug Baker has, and say the Right Bromides.
The bad news? Colleges lack the political will to pursue any substantial change, he said.
“No one has been prepared to take up that challenge,” Jhally said. “If universities wanted to do it, they have the power to change the culture on their campus. If they can change one campus, then it will be easy to change others. But that requires political will.”
"We want to be proactive and on the leading edge to see what we can do to improve our policies and procedures to prevent violence against women and also to deal with anything that does occur," Baker said. "We’re just trying to get out in front of this issue and really show some ethically inspired leadership."Right.
You must remember this.
And the enrollment bonanza that followed. "Football-inspired enrollment in quest of beer-'n-circus may not be best for our campus."
But it sells. Thus, cleaning up the rabbit culture becomes more difficult.