Staff editorial: When it comes to pervasive culture of sexual abuse, students must not stay silent

It seems that the past several months have been riddled with reports of sexual misconduct, harassment and abuse in spaces ranging from Hollywood film sets to the Alabama Supreme Court. Any lens that views a gendered and sexualized system of power abuse as beginning recently, however, is terribly ahistoric.

Today, as always, too many people in positions of power and control are grossly exploiting that power in the form of sexual misconduct. The internet, along with its multitude of hashtags and a growing public interest, does not make these systems of abuse any more real – just much more visible.

As Tulane students, it is easy to distance ourselves from these allegations and reports. “That’s not us,” “That would never happen to me” and “I’ve never been guilty of that” are things many of us tell ourselves and our friends as we read the stories of people of all gender identities who have been abused and harassed by chefs whose restaurants we’ve frequented, producers whose movies we’ve loved, comedians whose jokes we’ve laughed at and political candidates whose names we’ve checked off on our ballots.

But these mindsets, like a perspective that forgets or ignores systems of power abuse that existed long before we could favorite and retweet #MeToo stories, precariously miss the point. Certainly, these systems are produced and reproduced; practiced and ignored; experienced and forgotten here at Tulane.

For the student working off-campus at a Besh restaurant, for the student who accepted a ride home from a Tulane guest lecturer last year, for students who have taken advantage or have been taken advantage of, for students who have been groped in line at The Boot, who have touched someone without their consent at a party, who have seen something happen and not intervened – for all of us – this patterned behavior has not passed over our campus.

It is critical for us to understand the pervasiveness of these abuses of power not just as students exposed to these abuses here at Tulane, but also as prospective interns and future employees and employers. For all of us, the possibility of having been or of becoming victims or perpetrators of these acts is very real.

This situation is dangerous. But so is the possibility of having been or of becoming silent bystanders, denying that this happens to and because of us. As students, we have agency and voice — we have power too.

Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Roy Moore, John Besh, a U.S. Gymnastics doctor and a One Tree Hill writer are only the latest to be added to a long-standing tradition of sexualized, gendered power abuse. They join the ranks of so many others who have graced our televisions, classrooms, courtrooms, boardrooms and public offices.

But these things don’t just happen in the public sphere among household names. They happen in the dark and private spaces of non-consent and manipulation, under the guise of “it’s probably okay” and quieted by euphemisms like “lapse of judgment” and “overstepped.” They happen to people we know, people we love, people like us. They happen to us. They happen because of us.

To our fellow Tulane students: distance may be digestible, but it is ultimately inaccurate. Silence may be soothing, but it is treacherous. We should not and cannot keep our noses to the ground while we read the stories of people who seem worlds away. Look up, stand tall, speak out and do not fall prey to complicity, a perilous predator in its own right.

If you have been a victim of sexual assault or harassment, please visit Tulane’s Title IX resource page for information on how to get help and report.

Staff Editorials are written weekly by members of the Tulane Hullabaloo Board and approved by the full Board by a 2/3 majority vote.

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