Shifting the conversation

Shifting+the+conversation

Editorial Board

Sexual assault is a hot-button topic in today’s society. While the discussion may be uncomfortable, the consequences of not starting that discussion could be dire.

Politicians. Powerful businessmen. Prominent celebrities. Household names, who have a huge effect on our culture, are being accused regularly of sexual harassment. As more and more women come forward, a question arises: how is Malvern preparing us to handle ourselves around women?

We are learning more about assault by reading the headlines. One in five women and one in 16 men will be sexually assaulted in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. 91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are female.

We see prominent men getting accused by multiple women of harassment. Matt Lauer. Louis C.K.. Marshall Faulk. We hope a Malvern alumnus never engages in this behavior or makes this list.

In order to make sure Malvern students know the behaviors and consequences of their actions around women, they need to be exposed to some form of education on sexual assault.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Malvern needs to focus on two important areas where we see a need for growth. First, we need additional and enhanced situations where we work and learn together with young women as colleagues, developing respect for one another. Second, we need regular, consistent education on the definitions and consequences of sexual assault.[/perfectpullquote]

Exposure

We believe that Malvern should incorporate an expectation that friars will interact with young women in a collegial context into the school’s graduation requirements. This experience could take a variety of routes: a co-educational class, one of the current activity offerings, a shared service project, or other programs. We know that this will be logistically challenging, but we hold that this challenge should be prioritized.

The question of how we learn to respectfully interact with women is a tough one to answer, and it’s also difficult to talk about. It can get dismissed all too easily since we do have many great co-ed activities with our sister schools. We support and praise the Malvern Theatre Society, SpeakUp!, Cups for Caritas, and all other service and activity programs where Malvern and students from schools like Villa Maria Academy or the Academy of Notre Dame share their talents to create amazing results.

However, not all Malvern students participate in these activities. For the students who do not, this limits their interaction with young women to be strictly in a social setting. For those of us who do not sign up for the co-ed activities, we will not get to interact with girls outside of parties, concerts, or dances. And in these formative years, in those contexts, our perception of the opposite sex can become skewed.

When the majority of contexts in which we interact with girls are social settings, often fueled by alcohol and peer pressures, students may be more prone to objectify women. When women are just seen as sexual objects, there is a much higher chance for sexual assault to happen.

The current model of optional activities is not building positive relationships with girls consistently enough, because too often, our discussions are about who is hooking up with whom, and how each girl stacks up attractively. It’s seldom about the academic talents of our female peers or their contributions to an artistic group. When most Malvern students do not get to interact regularly with young women in a professional or collegial manner, this is the consequence.

Education

Juniors and seniors may remember an assembly about sexual assault two years ago in the spring. It’s hard to say if students still can recall or have internalized the lessons from that event since it was so long ago. The Editorial Board believes there should be more exposure to events like these, but in a more effective way.

Topics as sensitive as sexual assault require more individualized and engaging discussions. We believe that talking about sexual assault within smaller groups could be beneficial to educate Malvern students. Opportunities like the J-Term or the AGE block could be used to discuss this topic.

According to Director of Human Resources Mrs. Neha Morrison, Malvern does “Safe Environment” training with the faculty “to bring an awareness of what physical, sexual, and emotional abuse looks like and what to do if any of these behaviors are observed.” She mentioned there have been discussions with the Counseling department about bringing a similar type of training to students.

We support the implementation of consistent, ongoing education about sexual assault for the student body. It cannot be just a one-and-done assembly that happens every few years. At most colleges and universities, this conversation is a mandatory one, and results must be evaluated and reported. At an all-boys school, we believe that age-appropriate conversations around sexual assault should begin early and continue on an ongoing basis throughout Upper School.

Ultimately, any additional programming or discussions that Malvern implements will be useless if students are not open to these improvements. With stunning statistics and headlines facing us daily, we cannot ignore the fact that many of us will have a connection to sexual assault at some point in our lives.

Both Malvern and its student body can start now to make sure that we are ready to shift the conversation.