Creating Safe Campuses Means Refusing to Shut Up

This article is from WLUFA Advocate 4.2 October 2015.

Helen Ramirez, Women and Gender Studies

As I write this piece, I’m fighting a hopelessness that is seeping into my body after hearing a collection of unsolicited stories from students about their first weeks here on WLU’s Waterloo campus. They tell of the pressure to “consent” to sex, offensive postings on social media streams, and the laughter from their male colleagues when they do challenge sexism. They speak of unwanted touching, and the comments from men in passing cars that reduce them to sexual objects as they walk on the streets around our campuses. My week ended with the story of a sexual assault during Homecoming.

I force myself to hold onto hope by remembering that it was students—and their courageous willingness to tell their stories—who launched a process that has seen a commitment from the university administration, faculty and staff to stand with them to create a working and living environment that will not allow any form of gendered and sexual violence to go unaddressed. Refusing to shut up is an important part of this process. But I worry that we will forget that rape is part of a larger social operation that can make the campus unsafe for anyone who identifies as a woman, gay man or transgendered person.

There’s much more to the story I’m telling. Whenever a movement to confront oppression gathers steam, a backlash emerges that is meant to scare those who do such work into silence. The online posting “Kill Feminists” that targeted students and professors in Women’s Studies at the University of Toronto just weeks ago—in part—achieved that goal. Many of those working here at Laurier were, in fact, initially afraid. But no one is shutting up. Many of us remember the Montreal Massacre, and we see what’s happening elsewhere in Canada and around the world, where gendered violence plays out daily. We know the risks.

The work feels daunting which is why this is a call for solidarity. We need our colleagues to speak about gendered violence in all its forms. We need you, regardless of what subjects you teach, to speak up and be visible allies.

 

 

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