Changing the Conversation: The Need for an Anarchist Lens on Campus Sexual Assault

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By Hillary Lazar

October 5, 2015

In May, despite administrative efforts to prevent her from doing so, Emma Sulkowicz, a former Columbia University student dragged the mattress where she was allegedly raped by fellow student, Jean-Paul Nungesser, onto the commencement stage.

Known for working to raise awareness about sexual assault on campus, Sulkowicz had been carrying the mattress around in protest of the university’s dismissive treatment of her claims since Fall 2014. Lee Bollinger, University President, turned his back on her, refusing to shake her hand.

Prior to this, counter-protestors posted signs around campus discrediting her story. Sulkowicz was also subject to widespread media coverage that was equally flippant and callous. Ultimately, not only did the University disciplinary board rule against her, but shortly thereafter, they also dropped charges against Nungesser brought on by still another student. This made it the fourth time Nungesser was cleared of sexual assault charges.

Although Sulkowicz’ case has become a recent center of public debate over how to address the prevalence of sexual assault and “rape permissive culture” on campus, her case is certainly not the only to make headlines in recent years.

One of Florida State’s star athletes, Jameis Winston, a Heisman Trophy winner and national champion, was cleared of sexual assault charges despite questionable handling of his case. Meanwhile, the University of Oregon allowed three male basketball players who gang raped a student to finish out their season in 2014. And Georgia Tech was briefly the focus of attention after a frat brother was found to be distributing a guide called “Luring your rapebait” via email.

These are only a few of innumerable higher-profile cases, which are themselves only the tip of the iceberg. It is widely known that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted during college and a recent study has found that TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, questioning, and gender nonconforming) undergraduates are at even greater risk with 1 in 4 experiencing assault. Every 21 hours another student will be raped. And approximately 1 in 12 male students will attempt some form of sexual assault.

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