Beginning in Fall 2015, Unleashed’s first class of alumnae will be headed to college! This is an exciting milestone for the organization and its girls. Our hope is that we have prepared them for all the new challenges that college brings. It is a time when young people encounter many new aspects of the real world; independent living, strict deadlines, money management, and many more new challenges are part of the college experience. There is another, more unfortunate aspect of the real world that exhibits itself very potently during the college years: rape culture. As we’ve come to see, most recently through highly publicized cases like Emma Sulkowicz of Columbia or Jackie of UVA, sexual assault is a huge problem on college campuses.
I too will be beginning my first semester of college in the fall, and the reality of the unsafe environment that I am entering has been on my mind and a constant source of nagging worry. At the beginning of my college application process last fall, though articles about Sulkowicz carrying her mattress around Morningside Heights and Jackie being penetrated with a beer bottle were at the top of my news feed and consciousness, I wasn’t too concerned about my own experience, as my college list consisted mostly of small, liberal arts colleges, and these incidents seemed to be occurring mostly at big, traditional schools with active Greek Life. None of the schools I was applying to had fraternities, where most of these cases began, and I thought that my schools’ small, isolated environments would offer administrators who cared about their students, rather than the seemingly heartless ones at the schools in the news who found rapists not guilty despite overwhelming evidence.
This illusion of mine was soon shattered. In December, I read an article about a rape and acquittal of its perpetrator at Vassar College, one of the schools on my list. It was then that I began to realize that college sexual assault isn’t about fraternities or the size and location of a college; it is about college-aged kids who are incredibly susceptible to the national epidemic that is rape culture and administrators who care more about their schools’ reputations than freeing its students from this disease. It is terrible, but it makes sense; you give 18-22 year-olds who’ve been raised in a society of rape culture, victim blaming, and patriarchy complete independence and freedom for the first time and put them in the bubble that is a college campus, and this is where we end up.
I am scared. I am scared for myself, all my female peers, the Unleashed alumnae, and every other college freshman who is entering this disturbing world of college rape culture. Beginning college is such an exciting and important milestone, and it is truly a tragedy that this excitement has been tainted for young women everywhere. To make college and the rest of the world safe for women, we need not only to prepare the next generation of females through programs like Unleashed, but end the rape culture that permeates America and that reveals itself so powerfully in the microcosm of higher education.
-Rachel Scharf, Unleashed Summer Intern