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The Problem With Stanford's New Drinking Policy

Stanford University is home to a long list of notable alumni: John F. Kennedy, Elon Musk, Chelsea Clinton, John Steinbeck, Rachel Maddow, and more. While these individuals are change-makers worthy of celebration in our history books, a new name will forever be remembered in the school’s history for a far less celebratory reason: Brock Turner.

Turner isn’t a president, a journalist, or thought leader. He is a rapist.

His story, told from the perspectives of both his father and his victim, spread rampantly through our newsfeeds earlier this summer. Turner, a freshman, raped a woman who was inebriated and could not consent. He served three months of jail time as consequence.

Simply put, this is outrageous and this case is a clear tragedy. Turner’s decision to rape this woman is an unforgivably evil act itself, but the fact that he has further been defended and relatively protected from the full effects of the law seems unfathomable. Even more offensive is how Turner himself has chosen to handle the aftermath of his violent act — namely, launching a battle cry in the form of  a campaign against college party culture, which sends a message to the world that the negative effects of alcohol apparently outweigh (and cause) the negative effects of sexual abuse.

And the worst part? His university seems to agree with his reasoning. As of August 22, Stanford released a new drinking policy for its undergraduate students which prohibits large containers of alcohol for all parties on campus. This would be a rather agreeable policy, if not for the fact that it is completely based on deeply sexist principles that support rape culture and a legitimate rapist’s claims that college drinking ruined his life. If Stanford had chosen to employ this drinking policy years or months prior to this incident, I would be led to believe that it was for the health of students — to reduce the risk of alcoholism and to help direct students to a path more focused on studies. But they didn't.

My own college enforces a dry campus policy, but that does not mean that drinking and acts of harassment do not occur. Stanford’s rule implies that rape is a result of a victim’s choice to consume alcohol, and therefore their fault — an archaic, intolerant, and bottom-line ignorant assumption. Even if this policy did have meaningful research to back its claim, it still would not prevent rape on campus. Rules are broken. Rape itself breaks the law. To truly reduce such abuse, the country needs more systemic and educated information and policy that rightfully gives victims the benefit of the doubt.

Their new policy not only comes across as hasty and nervous, but utterly disrespectful — as does the media coverage of this entire series of events. It seems that because Turner attended Stanford on a swimming scholarship, his crime was considered through a thick lens of lenience because of the prominence and success he brought to the university. But while his athletic career would be worthy of note if we were talking about his admission into the university months before the rape occurred, it is irrelevant now. Yet many media outlets seem to believe otherwise, insisting on referring to Turner as the “Stanford swimmer” rather than the title more relevant to and appropriate for his actions: rapist.

Turner should have been expelled from the university for his violent actions rather than saved for his athletic potential.  He should have served as an example to profoundly inspire the development of programs to aid victims of assault and teach people not to commit such inhumane acts — especially considering that sexual assault has been an immense issue n on college campuses for years. In fact, roughly 1 in 5 women are raped or sexually assaulted during their college education.

I am supremely frightened by this number. I am a freshman in college, and two weeks into my experience, I have already learned about every security measure on campus, supplied myself with pepper spray, changed the clothes I wear to be more modest when I’m out alone, and have developed a security system with my friends to account for if something happens and I need to get home safe. I shouldn't have to, but I have.

And I’m hardly the only one. When women go to college, we have to pack our (way too expensive) textbooks, twin size sheets, laptop, and brass knuckles. We share apps with each other so we know what precautions to take when we walk home. We don’t go to that one Wal-Mart alone after 8. We double-check the locks on every door and window. We pretend to be on our phones in parking lots. We change and morph ourselves into a mold to stay alive. We don’t have an option. And we should.

People always tell me college was the best time of their life, which I believe, but there is no guarantee everyone’s college experience will be full of study sessions and social gatherings when we live in a culture that so values the demonization of female behavior and choice. Of course, a majority of the population wants to help put an end to rape culture, but when an institution as big and respected as Stanford’s enforces a policy that caters to a sense of female control and victim-blaming, it sends the message that letting these acts of violence happen is OK and just a part of life. While a rapist might not get to swim in the Olympics, he won’t serve a full sentence, either.

The words of Turner’s victim — a woman just like me, who should be the champion of this story, who should find peace, healing and change in a world that so favors the white guy — summarize my feelings on this subject well. May her words be remembered longer than his swimming times and may we learn from her trauma and candor.

Your life is not over, you have decades of years ahead to rewrite your story. The world is huge, it is so much bigger than Palo Alto and Stanford, and you will make a space for yourself in it where you can be useful and happy. But right now, you do not get to shrug your shoulders and be confused anymore. You do not get to pretend that there were no red flags. You have been convicted of violating me, intentionally, forcibly, sexually, with malicious intent, and all you can admit to is consuming alcohol. Do not talk about the sad way your life was upturned because alcohol made you do bad things. Figure out how to take responsibility for your own conduct.”



More articles by Category: Education, Feminism, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexualized violence, Rape, College
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Kami Baker
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