Sixth annual Shifting the Narrative tackles sexual, racial violence on campus

Ori Tsameret, Intersections Editor

This past Wednesday, the sixth annual Shifting the Paradigm was hosted by the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Tulane’s Title IX office. The event, as part of the All In campaign to end sexual violence on campus, featured a panel of scholars involved in work to support communities of color and a data presentation on sexual violence at Tulane. 

Largely communicating through pre recorded speeches, the introductory speakers included President Mike Fitts and Sienna Abdulahad, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. The speeches, particularly Fitts’, espoused personal responsibility, and acknowledged systemic structures and widespread cultural problems that led to racial and sexual violence on campus. No speech mentioned the specific ways that Tulane perpetuates harmful hookup cultures or the school’s racially violent history. Additionally, messages of exceptionalism were clearly passed along, with suggestions of “being a smiling face” and specific acknowledgements of individuals brought to attention.

As the speeches concluded, Meredith Smith, assistant provost for Title IX and clery compliance, began a presentation covering the data for the rates of varying kinds of sexual violence on Tulane’s campus, as compiled from the annual climate survey. The data revealed higher numbers of overall sexual misconduct allegations this year — with the coronavirus compounding them — than last year. The Title IX office also found variations in the form that these misconduct allegations took, with less of some types of cases and more of others. The research methodology for the climate survey was also tweaked this year, with a new category, “exploitation,” being introduced into the data collection. Smith concluded her presentation by explaining the new shifts in the Title IX coverage, with points worth mentioning including the lack of coverage of off-campus, excluding Greek life, other student organizations and study abroad incidents. 

The speaker panel carried the majority of the weight of the event, with 5 scholar-panelists and one moderator being present. All panelists involved held backgrounds in social work, counseling, or work on higher education campuses. The panel moderator herself, Samantha Francois, is an assistant professor at Tulane’s school of social work. 

The panel covered a wide variety of topics pertaining to racial issues and sexual violence on campus and panelists by and large stressed the interconnectedness of systemic violence and interpersonal violence. Panelist Toy Jones took Breonna Taylor, whose grand jury decision came back on Wednesday, as an example of public violence that was not met with the attention or justice it deserves. Jones pushed this point further, positing that everyday cases of private or interpersonal violence may happen and how at predominantly white institutions such as Tulane the act of reporting for students of color may be less straightforward. During a discussion of the difficulties queer students may face, panelist Jordan West pointed out the way discourse of sexual violence is often exclusive, leaving out Black transgender students and centering white, cisgender female students. West continued on this point, stating that queer students may be doubted more or misunderstood on the basis of their sexuality. 

Ultimately, the panel concluded that work to improve these cultures and to diffuse the upholding of whiteness through sexual violence must be done by every single person.