A New Day Shines – The Tower, October 29 2010
Across the nation, stories of students’ suffering from violence on campus fill the headlines of newspapers and the topics of talk shows. More pervasive than just the occasional lone gunman of popular imagination, many on college campuses feel unwelcome and violated, walking along dark paths in the shadows of university life. Substance abuse, self-injury and suicides such as that of Tyler Clementi, a recent Rutgers freshman, are far too often the conclusions of extended periods of harassment.
The statistics are staggering for every form of harassment and abuse that permeates the campus community. The Catholic University of America is not immune from these harmful effects of campus violence and it is pivotal these issues of verbal, emotional, and physical forms of violence be addressed openly and with every intention of pursuing solutions.
Consider sexual violence for a moment as a thought experiment. Look around next time you are in the Pryz during the busy lunch hour. Think about this: 1 in 4 of the young women you see will experience sexual assault or rape during her time in college. Most of the victims will not go on to report the incident to authorities, frequently because they knew their aggressor or did not believe their sexual encounter constituted assault or rape. The lasting impact of such encounters, whether acknowledged as violence or not, can be devastating and leaves long standing physical and emotional scarring. This is only one of dozens of issues that need to be addressed.
The violence that can do so much damage need not be one incident as dramatic as a rape or incident of domestic abuse. Harmful verbal and emotional harassment directed against someone due to their gender, ethnicity, or creed must be rejected in the same way physical violence is. For all of these issues, the University community must take a hard look at itself and begin to focus on finding long term resolutions to the endemics of low-level, hidden violence on campus. There are hopeful signs of this, however. For the most part, openness to the differences amongst members of the University community is a long standing value at this University, rooted in our calling as Catholics to love one’s neighbor.
Unfortunately, there are a number of specific instances where this love of neighbor only extends so far and change must begin. From the administration down to the student body, discrimination against the gay and lesbian community finds a far too welcome home on this campus. The many gay and lesbian community members who have had the courage to live openly suffer harassment, be it the derogatory use of “gay” and other slurs in common speech or escalated levels of targeted harassment. Other gay and lesbian community members live under a veil of silence, afraid to reveal their true self to Catholic University for fear of the repercussions. These lower level prejudices are reinforced by the administration’s, and ultimately the Catholic Church’s, current refusal to address an entire segment of the University’s population.
Quite frankly, the current situation regarding the gay and lesbian community on campus is shameful. While the University will never openly contradict the teachings of the Church, misguided as they may be, it is unfathomable that these students would be denied a place of welcome and safety that values their dignity, being created in God’s image. The creation of a support network, outside of the realm of Campus Ministry or another faith-based organization, where students and other University members could dialogue and address harassments in unity seems more than acceptable.
For each of these forms of on campus violence, the change begins from below. It requires a change in language and in humor, shifting away from pejorative comments against women, gays, or those of different backgrounds. It requires a shift in attitude that leads to more inclusive actions that welcome every member. It requires a transformation of the heart, so that all people are seen for their inner worth and no longer become victims of violence.
Without adequately addressing the multitude of violent words and deeds carried out against members of the campus community, this University runs the risk of creating lifelong victims of campus violence who live in fear. This University runs the risk of becoming another Rutgers, making headlines for hate that leads to suffering and even loss of life. This University runs the risk of failing to live up to its name as The Catholic University of America by not defending the dignity of each person from violence, especially those directly surrounding us.