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Taking a moment to celebrate progress

October 22, 2010

This is a heavy post to jump back in with.

The opening of the semester at the University of Minnesota saw three sexual assaults at fraternity houses in the first three weeks of school.  The letter that President Bruininks wrote was, honestly, better than I would have expected.  Excerpt below:

The recent allegations of sexual assault in the University community underscore both the awful impact of these actions on the victims and the responsibility we share for ensuring the safety of all our students, faculty, staff, and visitors. As president, I am deeply concerned and saddened by these reports, and my heart goes out to all who have experienced the physical and emotional impact of such violence. The University of Minnesota does not tolerate violence of any type anywhere on its campuses, and we will continue to take swift and decisive action, not only to investigate all such allegations, but also to provide support services to all those affected by sexual violence and make clear to everyone that sexual violence in any context is unacceptable.

We should acknowledge the existence of this problem in our culture—but we should also acknowledge the programs already in place to address it. The University’s Aurora Center provides support services and sexual and relationship violence education and prevention programs to all members of the University community. The Star Tribune recently highlighted the admirable efforts of a student group called Men Against Gender Violence, which seeks to communicate that most men do not participate in sexual violence, to confront those who do, and to address the behaviors that may passively condone or encourage sexual violence.

I want to personally thank all survivors of sexual violence who have exhibited incredible courage and reported their assaults.

Honestly, the letter surprised me.  I’ve come to expect a certain script from these kinds of letters–which often obligatorily acknowledge isolated incidents of sexual assault, but refuse to acknowledge the larger trend they are part of.

But to Bruininks’ credit, he didn’t.  He acknowledged how hard it is for women to report assaults.  He didn’t ask the university community to withhold judgment until law enforcement had time to investigate.  He didn’t implicitly blame the survivors who came forward by suggesting that women should use caution when drinking at parties (which several of the media stories did).  And he highlighted a student group whose founding is based on the fact that sexual violence is primarily perpetrated by men.

That’s four points in my book.

It’s not a perfect letter.  He acknowledged that sexual assault is a “problem in our culture,” but certainly didn’t dwell there long.  And he didn’t name that all three assaults were reported to have happened at fraternity houses.

But part of stubborn hopefulness is naming progress when we see it.

Jonas

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