April 23, 2019 | 67° F

UZUMCU: RUSA, administration fail to address ‘locker room’ talk

Opinions Column: Fahrenheit 250

Although Republican nominee Donald Trump’s comments have instigated a national reaction, it is hard to say whether it was focused more on lewdness versus the presidential nominee’s threat to women’s bodily autonomy. With Republican leaders pulling their endorsements in the name of their mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts, the conversation seems more focused on attacking male kinship extensions rather than on the assault on women’s agency. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's response to Trump’s remarks on the debate stage were not reassuring. Instead of opening up a broader discourse on a need to address sexual violence, she used the opportunity to bring down Trump’s credibility by pointing out past discriminatory rhetoric he spewed against minorities. Her missed opportunity also highlighted Clinton’s failure to address that within the minority populations Trump has denigrated, the racist and sexist rhetoric affects women in an intersectional way.

In rehashing Trump’s commentary, a conversation around sexual assault needs to directly address ensuring women’s safety at the University. Just last year, the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) failed to create a sexual assault committee. Only with a discursive pushback did RUSA address its blunder, which was especially disturbing since the White House had designated Rutgers University as a leader in the campaign against sexual assault on college campuses through the #iSpeak survey pilot program. It is critical to further the discourse on sexual assault particularly because women on college campuses disproportionately experience sexual violence. One out of four women are sexually assaulted during their college experiences. Experiences of sexual violence do not exist in a vacuum dismissed as mere “locker room talk.” The incidents are not isolated, they are systematic and exist across a continuum of issues.

Having a conversation within student body policy making then becomes especially important to address not only issues of representation in RUSA, but of the makeup of separate entities that confront "gender issues." Rather, I challenge our representative body to make such concerns a priority in the form of gendered consideration on a variety policy question. Designating a single committee on a structural concern that affects 1 in 4 women is highly misrepresentative and focuses on the effect rather than the deeper causes. For example, when the University cut the intra-campus bus budget, it resulted in more crowded buses. With more crowdedness, there was also an increase in incidents of women reporting being groped or grabbed on buses. I point to this example as a way a university budgeting policy has gendered implications, which requires representation at least at the student body level. University President Robert Barchi readily takes the White House designated sexual assault initiative seriously in his rhetoric, but does little to intersectionally address policy proposals with consideration to gendered violence. Responding to a structural issues with a committee, a popular Rutgers administrative solution to many problems --from the legacy of slavery at Rutgers to stolen indigenous land, does not confront the cultural and institutional reproductions of violence.The burden, however, does not lie on one set of shoulders. When it comes to slashing the budget, or making hiring decisions within departments, administrative leaders and chairs must consider the effects through a variety of lenses. Ignoring gendered implications in policy, meanwhile touting diversity initiatives and rape prevention measures only proves to make the hypocrisy that much more blatant.

Addressing sexual violence does not end at a leaked tape of a national figure empowering violent speech, it begins within our own communities’ roundtables. We need to decide what kind of conversation we want at Rutgers University around sexual assault, particularly when women, making up 50 percent of the student body, are directly affected. Holding elected student body leaders, administrators and departmental heads accountable requires a willingness to openly discuss how power and policy operate at multiple levels. Though Trump may dismiss the gravity of his words, his language has already set a precedent of what is acceptable for men in power to openly exercise. Dominant media can no longer characterize sexual assault as a self induced phenomena behind closed doors or dimmed parties when it is openly on the table. It is up to students to organize and use this opportunity to address the concerns rather than delegate to dismissive student bodies and rhetoric chalked up administrative leaders. Meanwhile, leaders can join students in this conversation or continue to spew their own kind of rhetoric, one that is condescendingly dismissive and full of feel good fluff.

Meryem Uzumcu is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in planning and public policy, Middle Eastern studies and women’s and gender studies. Her column, “Fahrenheit 250,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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Meryem Uzumcu

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