Marymount University’s mission is “to provide opportunities for personal and professional growth.” My college describes itself as “a student‐centered learning community that values diversity and focuses on the education of the whole person” and “guides the intellectual, ethical, and spiritual development of each individual.” So imagine my surprise when they cancelled a student-led event about sexual violence meant to do just these things, and guide students toward a better understanding of an epidemic that impacts so many of our lives.
When I invited faculty to join the Marymount Health Coalition’s event, Breaking the Silence, I expected excitement that students were taking initiative and that they wanted to learn how to advocate on campus for these types of issues. This was going to be the first student-initiated event about domestic violence and sexual assault happening on our college campus. We planned to have an educational guest speaker and then wanted for the student body to follow up with the decision makers on campus to have a direct dialogue about policies on campus procedures. Instead, this quickly led to our event being cancelled.
Students having questions about rape policies on campus led to a student-initiated, educational, public health club event being silenced. I was indirectly told our event was cancelled and I wrote an email correspondence to the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, the Leadership of Program and Development, and the President of Student Affairs explaining the importance of students being able to initiate events like rape culture without faculty interference and silencing. I am still waiting for a direct answer.
I started this club with a mission to create a safe place for students to talk about issues that are happening around us so we can create change. This issue, sexual assault on campus, is the one I finally am Breaking MY Silence about. When you are sexually assaulted, something inside you changes. I changed. I never heard the term “rape culture” in my entire three years at Marymount. I felt ashamed and guilty with no guidance on where to go on campus. Where was the support group for those who were raped? If I was drinking did it count as rape? What were the next steps? I needed help from Marymount and their lack of open dialogues, programs, and discussions made me feel much more alone, confused, and silenced.
We need to have events about the uncomfortable topics because they really are happening within our student body. Faculty members need to trust that they are developing us intellectually, ethically, and spiritually in order for us to facilitate these programs by ourselves. We will ask for their guidance and direction to help organize events like rape culture, domestic violence, and sexual assault, but in turn they can not silence us by requiring them to be only led by faculty or by ignoring the importance entirely.
My hope is for Marymount faculty to think about who they are hurting by cancelling these types of programs and by silencing student leaders.