OPINION | Tulane’s summer reading choice glosses over campus rape culture

Hannah Levitan, Contributing Columnist

Content Warning: The following article contains subject matter pertaining to sexual violence.

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Chanel Miller’s memoir “Know My Name” was assigned to the sophomore class as summer reading. (Ella Joffe)

Tulane University frequently boasts their ranking in top 10 happiest students, painting an illusion of safety and comfort for students and their families. This figure leaves out Tulane’s alarmingly high sexual misconduct and assault rates. Between Aug. 19 and Aug. 26, Tulane University Police Department logged three sexual assault cases, one obscenity case and one home invasion/unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling case in Warren Hall.

Understandably, the university does not want to advertise a sexual harassment and rape epidemic on its campus, but the university acted in poor taste when it assigned the sophomore class the memoir of sexual assault survivor Chanel Miller, “Know My Name” as a summer reading assignment. Tulane did not provide students with any warning about the graphic content, nor did they follow up with discussion, resources or preventative education, exemplifying the performative measures in place to prevent and address sexual misconduct at Tulane.

While Interim Assistant Provost for Title IX Julia Broussard said the book was not a required reading for the sophomore class, her office worked with the Newcomb-Tulane College and Campus Health to create the book project in hopes that all sophomores would read a copy.

“I hope that we provided enough information so folks could make an informed decision about whether or not they wanted to read the book,” Broussard said. “If you are not in the place to read this book, that is totally okay.”

While Miller’s narrative presents an educational yet graphic perspective into life after sexual assault, 64.5% of survey respondents reported not reading the memoir. Additionally, whether or not they read the book, 33.9% of respondents said the content was triggering. For those who have not yet processed their own sexual assault experiences, being encouraged by an institution that prides itself on the happiness of its students to read a book like “Know My Name” without a trigger warning is inconsiderate and cruel. 

Tulane’s ideology seems to be that putting a small bandaid on an open wound is all that is needed to cure an issue,” one survey respondent, who only identified themself as Jordan, said. “If this many students, from solely the sophomore class, have expressed trigger or trauma stemming from the book by Chanel Miller, it is quite apparent that Tulane isn’t remotely as committed to ending sexual assault as they claim. Personally, as a sophomore who’s only experienced one singular year at Tulane, I am not one bit surprised by this development at all.”

Tulane constantly claims they do all they can for their students regarding sexual violence, but their efforts seem superficial and prove to be insufficient. Sexual assault prevention modules and posters have not and will not make a difference in our community. They simply reinforce a facade, allowing them to check off “address sexual assault” from their to-do list. 

Sophomore Katie Craig said she was unable to finish her copy of the book due to the lack of a trigger warning for the intensely graphic content. Only making it through a few pages, Craig said she felt scared and uncomfortable and did not know what she was getting herself into.

“That’s what I didn’t understand with the school, how they would send out this book for people to read, yet they neglect all of the people that have come forward for many of the same reasons at this school,” Craig said. “It felt very hypocritical.”

41% of undergraduate women report experiencing some form of sexual assault in their four undergraduate years. Given the minimal measures Tulane uses to address existing rape culture, this figure is unfortunate but not surprising. Assigning a summer reading book that addresses such trauma without any content or trigger warning is far more harmful than helpful. 

Though the summer reading choice paves the way for a more open conversation about our indisputably unsafe environment, it is the student-run resources such as the Sexual Aggression Peer Hotline and Education and anonymous, student-run platforms, like the Instagram account @boysbeware.tulane, that truly help to dismantle rape culture. This account, dedicated to “[making] Tulane’s female and nonbinary community aware of other’s abusers,” frequently posts Tulane women’s experiences, often naming specific individuals for others to be wary of. 

For Tulane to successfully hold perpetrators accountable and address rape culture on campus, the administration must be willing to aggressively approach sexual misconduct cases. Rather than placing bandaids on bullet wounds, university resources should spend more time hearing from students on how best to ensure student safety and start believing those brave enough to come forward. 

Resources are available for Tulane students who are victims of sexual violence. Contact Sexual Assault Peer Hotline and Education‘s 24/7 Peer Run Hotline at 504-654-9543 if you need help. 

Tulane Emergency Medical Services can be reached at 504-865-5911. TEMS is a free, student-run service. In addition, Tulane University Police Department’s non-emergency Uptown number is 504-865-5381.

You can also reach out to Case Management and Victim Support Services at 504-314-2160 and they can offer support and help you file a report.

RAINN: Rape Abuse + Incest National Network provides resources that are LGBTQ+ inclusive and can be reached at 800-656-4673.

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