Freshman Reading Project opens campus wide conversation on rape culture

Natalie Reich, Contributing Reporter

One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Some campuses have ended the silence and begun a major national discussion on the topic of sexual assault. Tulane joined this conversation by making sexual assault the subject of the freshman reading project this year.

This year’s freshman reading project is “Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture — and What We Can Do About It” by Kate Harding.

Since 2002, Tulane began a reading project for first-year students to create a shared intellectual experience. Events centered around the reading project are scheduled throughout the fall semester to start conversations on campus.

The book focuses on analyzing rape and rape culture in society and offers solutions for combating the issue.

“A committee of faculty, students, and staff chose ‘Asking for It’ for its forthright and eye-opening look at sexual violence in our society,” Dean of Newcomb-Tulane College, James Maclaren said. “By taking a proactive approach to this critical issue and engaging our students in open and honest conversations, Tulane is setting the standard for our peer institutions and committing to creating a campus environment where violence is not tolerated.”

Sophomore Maddy Lowry, a member of Tulane’s Sexual Aggression Peer Hotline and Education program, said she thinks the reading project is only a first step.

“I honestly think people come into college already with their ideas about what consent is, what sex looks like, ideas about drinking that have been formed through high school,” Lowry said. “Reading a single book is not going to change most people’s’ minds significantly.”

Conversations about sexual assault and rape are more common in today’s society, and some students believe this reading project shows Tulane’s commitment to discussing this hard-hitting issue. Reading the book is required and in all Tulane InterDisciplinary Experience Seminars there is an additional assignment related to the reading.

Other students agree with Lowry in that they feel the requirement was not effective in making students engage with the issue.

“I don’t think it was enough of an actual requirement,” freshman Dorothy Slater said. “People who didn’t want to read it didn’t.”

Tulane already supports groups and organizations that work to support survivors of sexual violence and assault, and these associations are trying to expand their reach.

Lowry said she feels that the most important lesson to take out of the issue is to approach the conversation with a broad and intersectional lens.

“I think there’s a desire to see the issue as really black and white,” Lowry said. “It is important to understand that there’s more complexity than there’s usually given room for. Also [it is important] to take a more intersectional approach. I think if you focus on people who are the most marginalized, you can understand the complexity more.”

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