Huffpost College
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Ernest Owens Headshot

Demanding a Change: Why I Am Urging My Community to Visibly Combat Rape Culture

Posted: Updated:

A young woman was sexually assaulted at my school and came forward in the most visible and public way possible. She revealed her full name and face to my campus newspaper.

I know far too many women of color who have gone through the struggle.

But after several days of speculation and talk among my community, the various cultural resource centers and organizations that support them have not yet released a statement or have taken a very visible proactive step in addressing the matter at all.

One woman sexually assaulted is one woman too many. When I look back at my four years at the University of Pennsylvania, I have come to realize that much has not been done to enforce and inform students on my campus visiting such cultural centers what consensual sex truly is.

For all the condoms and lubricant that grace the bowls of these facilitates, there are no booklets about consent or rape prevention. And for all of our programming done on campus about dating and college romance, to expect a section on sexual assault prevention is shooting for the stars.

But I am no longer looking to the sky for answers. I am now demanding them.

Given the lack of involvement my black cultural resource center and student-driven campus groups within it has on advocating against rape culture, I took the initiative.

I created a rape culture awareness week on campus. I collaborated with outside student groups to promote a film screening. I talked to critically acclaimed filmmakers such as Cecilia Peck Voll (daughter of legendary actor Gregory Peck and director and producer of the new documentary Brave Miss World), who helped me with a social media campaign to raise awareness. I also had a public demonstration within a highly popular walkway on my campus as well.

But despite my attempts at mobilizing students within my community to get involved, I did not receive the support of the black cultural resource center I desperately was trying to reach out to. For example, I was denied permission and authorization to have it sent out along with other groups through their daily newsletter of events. The rationale: I was not an "official" student organization and they wanted to reduce the ton of information that they had already sent out.

Even though I had become the first student in recent years in our community to publicly put on a campus wide event pertaining to sexual assault awareness, the black community at Penn seemed reluctant to acknowledge my efforts.

I lost friends and received passive-aggressive insults. No organizations within their umbrella groups even wanted to respond to my emails offering to develop think tanks on spreading public awareness.

And while I must admit that my passion for this cause may have intimidated or turned off a few, I just could not bear knowing that students of color were going through the agony of sexual assault and did not have a campus community within their diaspora that visibly protected them.

So I am no longer asking, but demanding. Because for far too long I have asked and been rejected for speaking my mind and trying to follow the failed politics of respectability.

I have made a petition, and I am standing behind it. I am demanding that my university enforce higher expectations and opportunities for cultural resource centers on my campus to prevent rape and sexual assault.

Because the cycle is as follows:

1) Increases in reported and unreported rape and sexual assault cases keep occurring.

2) Many of the aggressors argue that they are unaware of the protocol pertaining to consensual sex.

3) Cultural campus resources centers are currently lacking in their ability to provide their own programming and advocacy within their communities in providing this information.

4) And as a result, #1 happens and the cycle repeats.

My petition is one step closer to creating a more proactive community across the board on my campus. As a man, I recognize my male privilege and I want more to be aware of it as well.

Numerous women on my campus do not have the luxury to feel safe and secure at campus parties as much as I do. The patriarch that has been created to allow men to throw campus parties in their living rooms while women are discouraged to further sets up a social dichotomy within our community. Automatically, women are placed in unfair power dynamics where they are spectacles. And with alcohol, misguided ideals about masculinity, and ignorance about true consent, rape is often the aftermath.

I am tired of shaking my head when I see headlines about this across my laptop screen. Tired of crying when I hear the numbers of campus rape cases read back to me. Tired of hearing men say that rape is only happening in far off places where poverty and high crime exists and not here. And I am tired of being one of the only few men of color in my community taking a very bold stance against this issue.

Too often I have been chastised for my directness, teased for my sensitivity, and mocked for my compassion. Since I am among a flock of Ivy Leaguers, many have jumped to assume that this is only to boost my own personal ego rather than increase my drive to help members of the community. Many have tried to preach to me the politics of respectability. I have been told that to be a black man at this school I should not yell for victims and bystanders of sexual assault and rape but instead I "should just tone it down."

And while that may have been the more popular approach among a sea of passive folk who rather belittle my actions, I cannot take any of them seriously given the fact that none of them are making any swift moves to combat this problem.

To be more frank, less talk and more walk.

Campuses across the nation, let us demand a change. Let us stop waiting, asking, persuading, scheming and let's instead just demand it. Because previous advocacy has proven to us before that those who don't demand what they want, won't get what they want.

Dr. King, Mandela, Gandhi, Thatcher, Steinem, and many others demanded their existence and respect.

That is what we should all be doing when it comes to protecting our peers against sexual assault and rape.

Demand a change, forget asking.