Violence has become an ever-growing presence in the news. Whether it's violence in the Middle East or violence exhibited by law enforcement, it seems like every news outlet is telling a story that either begins with — or ends with — violence.
My story is no different. Except I'm talking about a violence palpable to each one of us — violence against women on campus.
We live in a society that has often ignored the issue. Violence against women was not even a real concern until the 1970s, and it took us until 1993 to criminalize marital rape in all 50 states. Yet the issue continues to be swept under the rug by public and private entities, with the most recent example being the NFL's fumbling of the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Rice and his actions of abuse toward his then-fiancée, and now wife, Janay Palmer.
According to a 2007 report conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, one in five women are sexually assaulted in college. That means, with UCF's current demographics, more than 6,000 women will be sexually assaulted. Among these women, nine in 10 will know their offender.
The actions — or lack thereof — that surround these statistics only make matters worse. In 2010, fraternity brothers at Yale University marched through campus yelling, "No means yes; yes means anal," a direct and scary disregard for consent. At Columbia University, 10 undergraduate students were accused of sexual assault in the 2013-14 academic year, but none was actually penalized by the Ivy League school.
Administrative inaction has forced students to take the situation into their own hands. At Columbia University, the very brave senior Emma Sulkowicz drags her dorm mattress with her around campus as a sign of political protest and vows to carry her mattress until the school expels her alleged rapist. The mattress has spread to the masses, and now a new sexual revolution is taking hold on college campuses across the country.
The timing could not be more perfect, because earlier last month the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights announced that it would be reviewing 76 colleges and universities for how they handled sexual assault cases. One Florida university is on this list, and although it was not UCF, that doesn't mean we don't have work to do.
It may seem easy to blame men for all of this violence — after all, they are the most common perpetrators. But all genders are victims of violence, and the problem is rooted much deeper than that.
Masculinity is defined within very narrow terms and hegemonic masculinity — a concept popularized by sociologist R.W. Connell — suggests that masculinity's current definition guarantees a dominant social position of men in contrast to all other genders. Hegemonic masculinity represents the culturally idealized form of manhood, which includes characteristics such as being breadwinners, tough, brutal and violent.
Those who identify as men are often pressured to fit the model of hegemonic masculinity, and if they stray away from it they are pushed back in. Many of us add to this culture without even knowing it; our very own Student Government Association fell victim to this two weeks ago with its development of plastic water bottles that read "I'd Tap That." Though these water bottles were developed with good intentions of sustainability via the use of tap water, they only further encourage the objectification of women by men and the perception that women exist in a subordinate position for the sexual pleasure of men.
I took action on social media when I saw these water bottles, especially because our student fees went to pay for them. Administrators noticed and are stepping up to have an impact. Conversations to address violence against women and ways to create a safer campus are already in the works, but we, the students, play a crucial role in this, too.
Be a part of the conversation and speak up when you hear language that is violent or see violence in action — both emotionally and physically. The stakes are too high. Being a bystander is no longer an option.