Ending the Violence One Light at a Time
This April, approximately 2,000 lights illuminated the night and led the way for the thousands of students that cross Clemson's library bridge each day. No, not merely for decorative purposes-it wasn't a holiday or a fundraiser. The purpose behind the lights was to help people see-but in a more figurative sense. The lights were to help us see the millions of victims of date rape violence in the United States every year. But instead of emphasizing the statistic of the nation as a whole, the lights represented something closer to home.
Each light was someone's sister, daughter, girlfriend, granddaughter, neighbor, best friend or niece. Each light was someone you know well or it could be someone you only know of. It could even be you. Each light represented a girl from Clemson University who, within the next year, will experience some form of date rape or sexual assault. Each light represented a victim with a story. With the help of sociology and anthropology specialist Dr. Sarah Winslow and her Creative Inquiry team studying gender, sexuality, and violence on university campuses nationwide, they finally emerged from the dark.
The idea for the class, which started in the fall semester of 2012, first began when students started to take initiative in discussing such a personal topic. "It started somewhat when we had Women's Studies speaker Michael Kaufman give a speech in Tillman Hall about masculinity and the treatment of women," Winslow said. "There was an opportunity afterward to ask questions, and I was surprised to find that a lot of students who were vocal on this matter were young men. They were passionate about this issue-what it meant to be a young man and the sort of expectations they were held to, and what that meant for young women." After meeting with students who recognized gender stereotyping and preconceived ideas about sexuality and the role it plays among issues such as date rape, Winslow made it her mission to gather them together and evoke some form of positive change for Clemson.
"Ultimately what we want is some information to offer back to the campus community," Winslow stated. "They seem to have a good understanding of this, but they seem to be in the dark about some other issues." Some of the current projects the team has taken on are mostly based upon the goal to inform students of what resources are available to them at Redfern and other locations on campus.
Last semester, one of Winslow's students, Greg Bateman, had a project that consisted of using Cooper Library's free speech wall to ask students what they thought about date rape. "From his perspective, it got people talking, but there was still a lot of joking around, and not a lot of people wrote things. There were comments like "Don't be so drunk" and a lot of the focus was still on what women need to do to prevent it as opposed to men."
According to Winslow, this is one the many myths about date rape violence that she hopes to eliminate. "The classic story we tell about rape is the stranger who jumps out of bushes, but the vast majorities of rape are not that. They are acquaintance rape or date rape-things that happen at parties." And because this is such an accepted mindset of so many, the women who really are victims of this form of rape will not readily identify it. "They [the girls] will report things that happen to them that meet the definition, but they'll say things like "I was really drunk" or even "There were a couple of guys there and I'm not really sure who it was." And despite what they believe, they've still experienced sexual assault and that's something they need to process."
So how are they tackling this important issue this semester? "Well, we can read all the research we want, but we really need to hear from students." In addition to the light display, Winslow said that there will also be an awareness campaign and her students are working to create startling posters with statistics about sexual violence. They are even trying to contact local bars in downtown Clemson to see if they will give out wristbands with some of these facts. Informing people about this issue is the key to making a change. "We're not going to solve this problem by putting up better lighting or making sure that perpetrators don't have places to hide in bushes. We're going to tackle this issue by changing how our campus thinks about masculinity and femininity."
There is still progress to be made in terms of sexual assault awareness and prevention on Clemson's campus. With regard to where Clemson stands relative to other institutions, Winslow notes, "we're not any worse, but we're also not any better." She hopes that her Creative Inquiry group's research and awareness efforts will make a notable difference. The lights have been off for a while, but now they are starting to finally shine.