“It’s on US” is the amazing wellness campaign to end sexual assault that is taking place at Lawrence this week. The list of planned events and ways that the planning committee thought about all corners of campus is impressively comprehensive. The question, “who is the “US” responsible for ending sexual assault?” is addressed broadly avoiding reductionist or reactionary answers.
This week of action leads me down two trains of thought for this mid-week reflection. The first is gratitude for the opportunity for we, who want to be inclusive – to have our awareness raised about our collective power. When sexual assault has been too personal in my own life, I have felt powerless in the wake of a culture that too often minimalizes or sensationalizes the devastating and long-lasting impact of sexual assault on our communities. Rage, is an emotional response when pain is coupled with helplessness – and sexual assault is a systemic and cultural problem in the U.S. and on college and university campuses. Even as I felt rage – my impotence was reinforced. It is good for me to be able to think about the very real power we have to impact the culture and systems here, in order to reach toward the dream of a community where sexual assault has been eradicated. Culture and systems are changed through vigilance, honest conversation, and commitment and ownership on behalf of all members of the community. It is not the one and done – not even the big splashes. Perhaps it has more to do with persistence and articulation over time and in many places. One metaphor I came across described change as being more cunning than we are prepared for, “as gentle as the snow falling faintly onto the surface of the lake.”
Related to the idea of having the power to transform a culture and system – is the necessity of ownership by many across the community. This week of action encourages us to see and confess our roles in the systems and culture that benefit from allowing or encouraging sexual assault. It is not something that a few ‘bad’ people do – sexual assault is built into our ways of thinking, doing business, constructing our sexual and gender identities, and understanding our connections and responsibilities toward one another (or not). The slow change of a landscape that happens over the hours when the snow is falling on the surface of the lake, impacts our experience of the context in which we will drive, walk, dress, and even converse with one another. Even as I, along with many of you, worry about pacing and prioritizing in this whirlwind culture – I am reminded that sometimes admitting our role leads to maintaining awareness so that we will speak up when the opportunity is given as a part of what we already do and in the places where we already travel. Like snowflakes falling on the surface of a lake.
With Hope, Linda