How the success of #MeToo is evident on college campuses
Like many classes before it, freshmen starting college this fall will likely find that hookup culture — or the preference for casual sex over long-term, monogamous commitments — is normalized on their campuses. While this cultural norm has often been critiqued for fueling drinking and sexual assault, the class of 2022 may be better equipped to handle this culture, and the reality of campus sexual assault, than any before it. Unlike previous classes, freshmen start college this year on the heels of the explosion of the #MeToo movement. After almost a year of unprecedented media attention on the topic of rape culture, America’s newest college students may be better armed with a clear understanding of the once-taboo topic of sexual assault than any before them.
The night before I stepped onto my own college campus for the first time, I spent a few hours completing an online course covering alcohol education and sexual assault prevention. All students were supposed to take the course before the first day of orientation, and I expected to encounter the same rhetoric about these topics I had throughout high school: Don’t do drugs, never leave your drinks unattended, know all the different forms of contraception, and, most importantly, remember that the best form of contraception is no sexual activity at all.
This online course, however, was far more useful than I assumed it would be. Not only did it explain how to monitor your drinking so that you don’t lose control, but it also outlined the ways in which you can notice signs that someone else has had too much to drink, may potentially be at risk of being taken advantage of, and what you can do to keep them safe.
In terms of sexual assault prevention, the course thoroughly covered topics such as consent, characteristics of unhealthy relationships, stalking, and the many definitions of sexual assault. Crucially, unlike the supposedly educational lessons about sexual harassment to which I’d previously been exposed, this course was not centered on teaching girls how to avoid getting raped, but on how to not rape: It focused on preventing potential perpetrators from acting, not potential victims. The course also focused on a third, often unmentioned role in sexual assault: being a bystander. It explained how students could help their friends, peers, or even strangers get out of potentially harmful situations.
Importantly, this course was not just required for incoming freshmen to take, but required for all students to take. Neither those who failed to complete the course nor those who got lower than 85 percent of the exam correct were allowed to officially enroll in classes until they had passed the course. Knowing that every student on my college campus has the same background knowledge on consent and sexual assault as I do has not only made me feel safer, but has genuinely cultivated a culture of consent on campus. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve seen people check in on a stumbling drunk girl to see if she wants someone to walk her back to her dorm, overheard a guy tell his friend he’s not going to make a move on the girl he’s been talking to tonight because she’s definitely too drunk to give consent, or witnessed strangers making sure the guy with his arm around a drunk girl is her friend and not someone unsafe.
But while this course was great, it seems to be one part of a bigger shift in social norms. As a result of the #MeToo movement, college students have been exposed to the beginning of a culture in which sexual assault is no longer a shameful secret or spoken about in a hushed whisper, but a serious issue about which public figures have spoken out. Stories of survivors are now available on all social media platforms and the morning news reports about the rightful consequences sexual predators are facing. More and more, young people are coming forward to say that they, themselves, have been victims of sexual assault, which makes it easier for young adults to empathize with the issue and join the conversation about it. #MeToo’s success in humanizing the experience of sexual assault is evident among the class of 2022, and young people are responding to that humanization by making sure no one else they know has to go through that experience.
It turns out that when encouraged to talk about sexual assault rather than being made to feel it’s a censored subject, students actually listen and care about making their campus safe for everyone. My college campus is not the only one in America to have figured this out, either. My friends, spread throughout the country, enrolled in state schools, small liberal arts colleges, and Ivy League universities, have told me that they, too, had to take either the same, or an extremely similar, online course about sexual assault prevention and alcohol education. They have told me about shuttle services that give students safe rides across campus late at night, productive conversations about sexual abuse in their orientations and advisories, and even social events at their school designed to spark and continue conversations around consent.
While it’s still early in the year, it’s clear that the #MeToo Movement has impacted and is present among student bodies, making them safer, more aware, and more welcoming than they’ve ever been before. Although revelations of sexual assault scandals, in academia and beyond, have been relentless and depressing over the past year, what I’ve witnessed on my college campus so far has made me proud of the work the #MeToo Movement has done. The difference one year has made is outstanding, and I can wholeheartedly say I believe it will only get better.
More articles by Category: Gender-based violence, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Campus rape, College, Rape, Sexual harassment, Sexualized violence