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This summer, we were given the opportunity to do a research project on the culture of sexual assault on Xavier’s campus. Working with our adviser, Dr. Marcus Mescher, we were able to use an entire summer to take a critical look at the institution that we call home.
To begin the process, we identified our personal experiences during our time at Xavier that drove us to work on the project, as well as what we most wanted to see changed when school resumed.
Riley chose to focus on increasing awareness of survivors on campus and working to create a more positive and loving environment for them to exist in. Daniel chose to focus on the root causes of toxic masculinity and how that mindset contributes to the rape culture we see on campus. Derek chose to study how we (students and institutions) can change the predominant culture on campus. Through these three specific lenses, we began to work on making a tangible and positive change across Xavier’s campus.
However, the more we began to specialize, the more we began to see how related our seemingly different topics were. Rape culture exists because men are expected to conform to hyper-masculine norms that train them to think they are entitled to sex, should be silent about emotions and are expected to protect other men, even if it means violating the dignity and rights of others. Pornography not only degrades sexuality, but it also normalizes violence. Alcohol and drug abuse impair decision-making and are often used to minimize responsibility after the fact.
Underlying all these factors is widespread moral relativism (illustrated by the popular phrase, “I do me, you do you”), which makes it seem like this isn’t a problem that should concern men. This then leads students to assess that sexual violence should not be a concern for them.
The result is that far too many people are convinced that rape culture does not exist or, if acknowledged that it does, that it is a woman’s issue to address alone. It’s unlikely that we’ll get better at showing support for survivors or changing cultural norms unless, and until, we address these interrelated root causes.
The more we looked at the issue, the more we understood that we could not really talk about any of the variables independently. They interact with each other at the deepest level so that they become ingrained in every part of our daily lives and culture.
This became our largest and most important finding of the summer: Rape culture affects every single person on Xavier’s campus. No matter a student’s level of involvement, knowledge of the issue or experiences with sexual violence, people still suffer.
Being impacted by rape culture doesn’t always look like being a survivor of sexual assault. It can look like a friend group being torn apart because of intimate partner violence. It can look like a man afraid of expressing his vulnerabilities to his group of male friends. Across campus people are suffering from lack of open dialogue and the pressure of the wider culture.
Here is where we found the clearest tie to Xavier’s Jesuit tradition: At Xavier we are founded in the tradition of Cura Personalis, care for the whole person. We are proud to be men and women for and with others. These truths cannot exist in the same community that allows rape culture to be so widespread. Our Jesuit values that pervade our community must be tools that we use to analyze our most intimate moments.
This summer we worked to build institutional change that will shape the future culture at Xavier University. Programing, new staff positions and curriculum changes are all on the way for the students at this renowned university.
But change really only comes when students become invested in their own future. This is our ask to you, Xavier: Seek out and learn more. Lean in, think critically about how rape culture impacts you and seize the many opportunities that we have to confront rape culture in our own lives. As students at a Jesuit university — if we are truly men and women for and with others, if we are committed to acting with justice, generosity and integrity — this is our responsibility to each other and the world.
Daniel Bowling (‘19), Riley Head (‘20) and Derek Adkins (‘20) are the research team responsible for recommending a prevention coordinator to Father Michael Graham.