Two Greek students reflect on their experiences throughout the past semester in the course WS291: Sexual Violence, taught by Assistant Director of the Women's Center, Michelle Issadore.
By Steve Bialick, '10, Theta Chi Fraternity
Although it has been merely one semester in my first course ever to fall under the heading of "Women's Studies", my brain has already begun to rewire its innate neural workings in order to perceive human behavior in a new light. Prior to registering for a course entitled "Sexual Violence", I was always given the impression that humans are a special species - more complex, more intelligent, and more diverse than any particular animal on the never-ending list of Earth's plethora of species. This theory, I am quickly learning, is a mirage. The illusion that humans are unique is simply that - an illusion. Humans, particularly males, are in fact frighteningly similar to, say, birds. Forget flying, chirping, nest building, and grass nibbling; rather focus on a seemingly distinctive quality of the Egyptian Nightjar, for example. This dessert bird is a fairly rare breed, but it shares a characteristic that runs rampant in the human male community: the ability to utilize the method of camouflage. Albeit unfortunate, it is true that blending in and changing who you are promotes survival through social, cultural, and evolutionary changes. Most people would never realize, myself included, but through readings, discussions, and other activism projects, I have opened my eyes to the fact that human males are puppets whose strings are pulled by societal norms. Some think that an individual responsibility is to change society; yet, it is beginning to become clear how society changes an individual. Whether portrayed by the media, teachers, family, or friends, the male attitude is defined by society, and we are obliged to guise in camouflage.
Maybe this theory about male masculinity is a fallacy, I thought; perhaps it is a trick by sexual violence advocates to grab the attention of the male community. I toyed with this idea for a moment, until I realized that my masculinity mask is a part of my everyday wardrobe; I wear the imaginary camouflage on a daily basis. When I first decided to register for a course offered by the Women's Studies department, for example, I kept it secret from my family and friends. Yet, I suddenly realized how my behavior paralleled that of most self-conscious men, and instantly gave up on hiding the fact that I am enrolled in a "Sexual Violence" class. The problem, though, was that while I thought I had completely removed this guise, this projection, it turned out that the camouflage runs layers thick. On one hand, I was enthusiastic about informing my parents and peers about the course I plan to take; on the other hand, I was still putting on a front depending on my audience. When I explained the course choice to my mother, sister, and female friends, I put a lot of stress on the fact that this class offers the opportunity to discuss controversial, yet important issues, in a small group setting - one that will teach me to help others and support the common goal that each student in the room shares. These are my true reasons for stepping inside the "Sexual Violence" classroom. Nevertheless, when I explained the choice to my father, fraternity brothers, uncles, and grandfathers, I put a heavy stress on the fact that this class fulfills my "writing intensive" requirement - one necessary to receive my college diploma - and that this reason is the basis behind my decision making. Why, I ask, do I alter my stance on the course based on who is listening? Why, I ask, do I challenge my true beliefs when in the company of other men? Sadly, the correct response is: society.
A neuroscientist at heart, I used to question the biology behind why humans act the way they do, why men behave the way they do, and why women are the way they are. Evidence shows that 85% of murderers are men, men perform 90% of physical assaults, 95% of date rapes are committed by men, and 95% of domestic violence is committed by men. Thus, it is apparent that rather than classifying violence against women as a "women's issue", we should be calling the attention of men. Perhaps the true question, instead of "why we are who we are", is how to make the human population aware of its flaws so a change in behavior results sooner than later.
This opportunity arose at Lehigh University with the help of Michelle Issadore and the entire Women's Center on campus. WS291: Sexual Violence, a seminar course offered in the Women's Studies department this semester has enabled facilitated discussions regarding the global issue of sexual violence that directly impacts us, even within our tiny Lehigh bubble. Appropriate readings were assigned - some written by advocates, others written by survivors, but all of them written by supporters strongly dedicated in the fight to end violence everywhere. Movie clips, research papers, and activism projects enhanced the dialect of the discourse fostered in the classroom, but the underlying message of the course leaves a lasting impression for all enrolled to share with the outside world in the future. Kudos to the Women's Center for conjuring up the curriculum for such an impactful course, but I give most props to the students who read this blog and join our team by demonstrating interest in our cause.
By Kristen Mason, '10, Pi Beta Phi Sorority
Upon first registering for the Women's Studies course entitled Sexual Violence, I truly had no idea what to expect. As a Greek student here at Lehigh, I wondered whether or not the issues we would discuss would have any relevance to my daily life. As a Behavioral Neuroscience major, I rarely find myself taking courses aside from major science classes and I knew that this course would be different than any other course I have taken at Lehigh. Although I knew this course would be different, I did not expect my mind and outlook on so many situations and issues to be so significantly impacted. I can honestly say that I will forever be changed by what I have learned in the past fourteen weeks of this semester.
Prior to my participation in this course, my knowledge of most sexual violence issues was certainly lacking. Although I was aware that sexual violence is absolutely a worldwide epidemic, I was unaware of the extent of the horrific crimes committed against so many individuals and I did not realize how pertinent many of these issues are to my daily life. Although I take pride in being a member of Greek life because I do believe we have wonderful Greek organizations on campus, it is impossible to deny that instances of sexual violence occur within Greek life.
I think that many people lack knowledge of sexual violence issues either because it is not readily available or they do not wish to pursue further knowledge. As we have learned in class, many college students admit that they have performed actions that legally meet the definition of rape or sexual assault, however they explicitly state that they have never committed this crime. Victims too often lack knowledge and admit to certain violations that meet the legal definitions of rape without explicitly defining these actions as rape.
I think that it is imperative that action be taken to increase awareness on issues of sexual violence. In the course, one of our most fun and effective means of promoting awareness on campus was our Flash Mob project. In this project, we recruited approximately sixty students, the majority of which were actually involved in Greek life, and performed our flash mob where all of us laid on the ground of Linderman Library for ninety seconds wearing t-shirts that were made during the Clothesline Project. Every ninety seconds, a women in the United States is raped, and that was the significance of our chosen time period. After the ninety seconds, we handed out a list of facts and statistics pertaining to sexual violence. It was amazing that we were able to recruit so many individuals who only knew that they would be involved in an activism project concerning sexual violence and not what the project exactly entailed.
As a member of Greek life, I think that it is important that people become aware of these issues of sexual violence in order to stop them. These crimes are occurring on campus; there is no way to deny that. In order to minimize and hopefully one day eliminate these crimes, students need to be aware that what they are doing is not only morally wrong but also illegal. It is often said that knowledge is power. By increasing the knowledge of sexual violence on campus, we will have the power to stop it.
For more information on the Sexual Violence course and other prevention and education initiatives, please visit the Women's Center website at http://www.lehigh.edu/~inwnc/