Confronting that question: "Do you feel safe?"
On Friday morning, I walked through Pulver on my way to work and was stopped by a long, bright yellow piece of paper asking the question that I’ve been asking myself all week: Do You Feel Safe? It was 7:45 a.m. and there were already half a dozen comments. I returned a few hours later to see people lying on their stomachs, writing their thoughts. The banner was almost completely covered. I was amazed by and unbelievably proud of those who felt comfortable enough to share their personal feelings in front of the entire community. Finally, the conversation has left the Civil Discourse, entered the real world and can no longer be written off as the concerns of a few. This is a problem, and we’re no longer afraid to show it.
The one thing I was not impressed by, however, were the comments of those who believed the banner was a direct attack on specific people or groups on campus. To that, I simply have to say that it wasn’t about one allegation: it’s about the unaddressed longevity of this issue. I will be the first to say that I do not blame one group or team for any of the issues on campus. While I will not defend the actions of those involved in the multiple instances of assault and harassment that have been made public these past couple of weeks, I will defend the reputations of those who were not. From what I’ve heard, the rest of the campus holds a similar view.
When I first toured Colby, all my guide could talk about was how joining the Class of 2014 didn’t just mean becoming a member of an extensive network of incredibly bright alumni, faculty and students; it meant becoming a member of a family. And they were right: in my year and a half here, I have become a part of a clan that loves, fights, makes up, laughs and protects one another. I have “family dinner” every Sunday night with people in my dorm and if I have a problem, they take it on as their own. They make me feel safe. Seeing the splintering of our larger family, however, does not.
We are letting this issue of “who did what” tear us apart, and when that happens, we miss the point. I understand privacy laws, I understand the obligation the College has to protect the identities of individuals who are being investigated, and I understand that sometimes, it’s out of the hands of the college entirely. I do not understand, however, why the first and only time this year the administration publicly addressed allegations of sexual misconduct occurred was when an athletic team was reported to be involved. People already talk about how sports teams get priority on this campus, but this is ridiculous. Making an example out of 75 people ultimately protects the dozen or so that were responsible. Why not address the actions of the countless others not on a team who may still be on campus without any legal or social consequence?
I don’t think I have to explain to everyone why this week was a big one for the issue of sexual assault. On Friday, parents and prospective students commented on how impressed they were with the campus responding to “the problem at Penn State” through the banner in Pulver. Although what is going on there is a completely separate problem from what is happening here, the issue of silence remains the same. One of my friends who lives on the University Park campus uploaded a photo of a candlelight vigil held a couple of nights ago, with 12,000 students holding up candles in front of a brick building that, in the darkness, looked eerily like our very own Miller Library. Although I disagree with what they’re defending, I cannot help but wonder how a school nearly 10 times larger than Colby has been able to come together to fight against what they believe to be an injustice, and we’re so divided over something that should be a no-brainer. When we cut through all the side-arguments, qualms with the Administration, Discourse posts, and hypotheticals, we all agree on one thing: sexual harassment and assault does exist on the Colby campus, and that it’s wrong. So why not just start there?
“When you hurt one of us, you hurt all of us.” Those eleven words were written on the banner and stood out to me most as I walked through Pulver last week. We obviously are not Penn State. We’re Colby. And we’re better than this. Taking a stand against what is happening on this campus should not mean ostracizing or demonizing a single group or team. It should mean holding individuals accountable and showing that as a community, we will not accept anyone who hurts a member of our family. Fighting amongst ourselves solves nothing; fighting against something does. This campus is ours. It’s time to take it back.