“It’s On Us” campaign misguided, ineffective

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Supporters of the "It's On Us" campaign pose after the event on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Seth Oldham.

Two weeks ago, the University of Dallas community received an email from Sheryl Dellinger, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, outlining a campaign dubbed “It’s On Us,” which is a “national movement to end sexual assault.”

The campaign asked “everyone — students, community leaders, parents, organizations, and companies — to step up and realize that the conversation changes with us. It’s a rallying cry to be a part of the solution.”

The campaign was said to be built on three pillars: consent education, increasing bystander intervention, and creating an environment that supports survivors.

The campaign pledge, which students were asked to take in exchange for a free t-shirt, requested students “To RECOGNIZE that non-consensual sex is sexual assault. To IDENTIFY situations in which sexual assault may occur. To INTERVENE in situations where consent has not or cannot be given. To CREATE an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.”

While seemingly harmless, the problem is that these “solutions” don’t fully take into account or understand the complexity of human beings and their interactions. In effect, the solutions that follow from these pillars are weak and ambiguous at best.

The first pillar, consent education, fails in two ways. Rhetorically, it insults the audience by assuming that the UD community doesn’t understand the basic concept that non-consensual sex is sexual assault. Substantially, it fails to understand that consent becomes difficult to determine within the context of actual social interaction.

Human beings communicate in many different ways which are far from being clear and well-defined. This is especially true regarding sexual encounters where both parties often prefer to communicate via body language rather than words. Combine this with the consumption of alcohol, and the ability to determine whether consent has been given becomes a very difficult task. The point being that consent is a rather unwieldy measuring tool when applied to sexual behavior in humans.

This follows into the second pillar, increasing bystander intervention, where consent often becomes even harder to judge from a second or even third person’s perspective. Often times, situations are misread or seen in differing perspectives. This added element can infuse even more confusion into an already complicated situation.

The third and final pillar again insults students by assuming that they don’t already wish to create an environment where victims are supported and sexual assault is unacceptable. In addition, anyone who does not support this type of environment will most definitely not change their mind thanks to awareness campaigns such as “It’s On Us.”

While the campaign presents solutions that are ambiguous and ineffective in nature, its core failing occurs in its trajectory. It attempts to provide the solutions to symptoms rather than to the disease. With consent as its great standard bearer, the campaign grazes the surface of the problem rather than striking at its roots.

The problem of sexual assault, at its core, is a perversion of human nature. A desire to objectify and use other human beings for one’s own pleasures. Consent says nothing about this basic truth. Rather, it often seems to create a false dichotomy that non-consensual sex is wrong while consensual sex is fine.

As Catholics, and as people with a deeper understanding of human sexuality, we understand the dignity of every person. We understand that no person should ever use another no matter the context of consent. This deep yet basic truth has been lost in our society in a sea of pornography, promiscuity and sexual perversion. By failing to stand up to society’s faulty understanding of sexuality and remaining silent on core issues which lead to sexual assault, the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) and the student volunteers have missed a great opportunity to make a real change on our campus and in our world.

A suggestion to the Office of Student Affairs: “Us” includes you too.

Note: The contents of this article have been edited since its original posting in order to remove an unsupported statement.

15 COMMENTS

  1. ” This is especially true regarding sexual encounters where both parties often prefer to communicate via body language rather than words.”

    Ah yes, the classic “her body language said she ACTUALLY wanted it” defense.

    Very common among rapists and rape apologists. Weird to see here.

    • This article brought a lot of questions to mind.

      Why are you focusing on the fact that as Catholics we need to highlight the dignity of the human body? Rape is a clear No; let’s simplify it in terms of common sense, and not confuse it with theology. Some things are easier understood that way.

      Additionally, UD doesn’t follow the three basic, “demeaning” messages of the campaign. Here are some examples:
      1. Friends telling me they didn’t want to do something but their guy friend pressured them into it or was on top of them, so they didn’t want to cause a fight.
      2. Students taking advantage of sleeping, drunk girls in their own beds, which has happened before.
      3. Consensual sex isn’t discussed at all on campus, because it’s taboo. This has led to more instances of uncomfortable pressuring from partners and friends into sexual situations. (But you’d be hard-pressed to find students not talking about “blacking out” on a Friday morning after TGIT. I don’t think you can really claim every student has this high moral code you praise them for having for worldly pleasures) As a result of this, sexual assault is something victims feel they can’t tell to campus authorities, because it’s sinful, because sex is something you are at fault for. The victims are suffering in the end here.

      A couple other fatal flaws with this article, things I just thought were common sense:
      – Alcohol isn’t an excuse for driving drunk and killing a person. Thus, it is not an excuse for “not reading the signs” of a woman’s body clearly. If she’s unconscious, if she says no, if she wants it to stop, it’s rape. There’s nothing confusing about that.
      -Bystander intervention is pretty obvious. If you see someone leading someone home who is themselves drunk or creepy or not upstanding, intervene. If you see someone taking advantage of someone in any way, you help. Flirtation is consensual, happy, and there’s interest in both parties’ faces. If you see worry or fear or confusion or sickness, help out.

      I do agree that the campaign missed the mark, though for different reasons. They didn’t do enough to help people become aware of the dangers at UD. I hope next year there are resources for women such as contact information for women’s shelters, hospitals who treat rape victims, and methods of self-defense for free/sale at the table. Pledge cards don’t stop evil people, sadly.

  2. Mr. Dodson, while you are intelligent and hard-working, (from what I’ve seen in the class that I take with you) there are several assumptions and interpretations that you make which have and will severely misinform past and current readers of your article. I would like to start by noting that I fully understand that this is a commentary piece and that you have a multitude of God-given rights protecting your access and expression of this particular commentary; HOWEVER, because of the quasi-factual nature that you present some of your criticisms there is severe room for improvement on your article.
    First, complaining that OSA is being “infuriating” because they don’t incorporate Catholic values into “their” campaigns, demonstrates a severe lack of informed perspective on your end. OSA did not run this campaign. OSA did not choose this campaign. OSA did not even organize for the preparation of this campaign. Students controlled and supervised every single one of these aspects. The most that you can correctly say the OSA did was that one of their staff members signed off on a budget request (filled out by students).
    Second, stating that those who do not support safe environments and the “It’s On Us” campaign, “will most definitely not change their mind thanks to awareness campaigns…” is egregiously ignorant and contradictory to the “respect” that you hold for the Catholic values and pillars that you wish to protect. Your argument basically states that people’s morality is wholly static. That (belief that morality in a person never changes) presents a profound bastardization of Catholic morals. One of the central sacraments and DOGMAS of the entire Catholic religion centers completely on the idea of forgiveness and future changes made after that forgiveness. The sacrament of Reconciliation is directly linked to the idea that a believer and sinner will make better attempts and efforts to change their ways after their offenses. By asserting that bad people will never change, you completely ignore one of the most arguably unique holdings of Catholicism as a Christian denomination. This assertion borders on heresy and ignorance of Vatican teaching. Transformation is a theme so obvious and emphatically presented in the Bible, that claiming morally dynamic character is not possible discounts the entirety of the New Testament and ignores the very foundation of which the pillars of Christian doctrine settle. Remember St. Paul? You know the dude who literally killed Christians with rocks and then repented, becoming one of the loudest voices protecting and proliferating the Christian faith? I’m pretty sure that there was a change in moral character there.
    Third, just to reinforce the first point I wish to mention that on November 13th, Seth Oldham spoke at length about the “It’s On Us” campaign and why it is so important at a public Student Government meeting. He can corroborate that almost every decision made for that campaign was student-created. Again the only influence that OSA had was a budget request form.
    Fourth, the University would have been in violation of the law if some form of consent education did not exist. I have made this point relatively late not because I think the legality of issues is unimportant, but because first and foremost as Catholics are to follow God’s law and not rely solely on the law of man. Again Mr. Oldham spoke at length about the campaign and more specifically, he noted that Texas law requires a form of PSA on consent education and sexual assault.
    Fifth, stating that consent education is insulting to the UD Community because it is repeating something that they already know, completely ignores the very nature and effort of consent education as a whole. The entire importance of consent education lies in the fact that violation of that principle deprives a person of the most crucial human rights that there are to possess. The reason that it is important to repeat, “Consent is required.” so often is that it is supposed to make it so abundantly obvious that this concept is critical that anyone who violates the principle can not claim ignorance. Unfortunately, the state of Sex Education in the US is not good, in fact at times, it has proven to be abysmal and more harmful than good: ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0jQz6jqQS0 ) Campaigns like this one fill the gaps left by incomplete programs given in public schools.
    Sixth, the inherent issue of one dimensional address of consent. The purpose of this campaign was to also deliver a student perspective of consent and ways to communicate it and respect it. The problem with stating that human language is complex in your argument, but then ignoring a multiple perspective definition and idea of consent in this campaign, forfeits your entire claim to the understanding that human communication is complex. As freshman a good majority of the students at UD were required to take a course speaking on the basic ideas of consent and what it looks like. That was a single perspective given by a third-party. This campaign brings the same definition from a different perspective: the student’s. Stating that this offering and clarification of consent is useless, in turn, defeats your argument that human communication is complex. It is complex, therefore it requires multiple perspectives to fully grasp a definition of an abstract concept, cemented in concrete actions.
    Seventh, the wording of some of the arguments is questionable. I have to address some of the more , let’s say, “interesting” arguments and conjectures that you have. First, as the comment above states some of this language is used by convicted rapists and rape apologists, but, let’s give the benefit of the doubt and say that that particular statement was unintentionally similar, there are still severely disturbing assertions here. The one that I wish to address directly is this statement, “The problem of sexual assault, at its core, is a perversion of human nature. A desire to objectify and use other human beings for one’s own pleasures. Consent says nothing about this basic truth. Rather, it often seems to create a false dichotomy that non-consensual sex is wrong while consensual sex is fine.” Calling sex with or without consent a false dichotomy of moral blameworthiness is outstandingly misguided at best, or intentionally vicious at worst. Your statement implies and presents a situation where non-consensual sex is not always wrong.
    These seven points are where the true misguidance and lack of efficacy lay, not in the campaign, but in a falsified “commentary” where truth goes to die.

    • I’m stunned by the bullying, rude and not that well thought out comments left on this article. Actually I shouldn’t be. This is the unfortunate turn of events when someone tries to intelligently explain their opinion and judgements. Students turn to condescending rhetoric and name calling. It’s an opinion piece. Not the statement of the entire university on this matter. Every single comment that disagrees with the writer is outright rude, condescending, and unchristian; as some of these comments claim to know so much about. The actions taken last week were to raise awareness. They achieved that goal. Here is someone who has a different opinion and he must be condemned as a heretic? Are you kidding me? Might I add, you individuals who wrote the worst things did not even supply your names. Today I saw Nick having a conversation in the Capbar with someone on this topic. Any of you interested or want to keep hiding behind your computers and phony names? As someone who agrees or disagrees with some points the article brought up, I’m shocked with such strong opinions you seem to have that you would belittle your argument or point of view in such a way. Sexual Assault awareness is something that everyone should be more educated on and diligent of and to raise questions in order to better the conversation whether they are for or against it. I suppose you all went or go to UD where each student is challenged form quality argumentation. Most of these comments did not accomplish that. All of these mean comments have done is left a very clear understanding on how judgmental UD students are. At the end of the day conversations are two sided. At least Nick opened a more in depth conversation to be had.

      • 1. Opinions can be bad. 2. This Opinion Piece makes objective claims that can and should be critiqued. 3. If you think condemning poor opinions in strong terms is “unChristian,” you need to pay a bit more attention in TheoTrad. Certain sectors of Protestantism may condemn this sort of frankness– but the same cannot be said of the Catholic tradition. From Pius back to Dante back to Augustine back to Paul, Catholics have always been comfortable with bluntness. 4. The idea that every issue has two sides, or that one should celebrate an opposition for “starting a discussion,” no matter the nature of that opposition. is modernist, relatavist nonsense.

  3. Why are you condoning the violation of another human being’s physical well-being and condemning any attempts at mitigating the effect of people like you? Because it’s not jesus enough for you?

    “a false dichotomy that non-consensual sex is wrong while consensual sex is fine”?? What is actually wrong with your head?? Is the concept of “I am okay with this” and “I do not want this” seriously too complex a puzzle for you to comprehend, or are you just another rationalizing sociopath who actually doesn’t get it?

    Have you or anyone you love been raped, or have you simply raped women and told them that if they really meant “no”, they shouldn’t have been asking for it with their bodies?

    I bet you also think it’s inappropriate and wrong to talk about gun regulation every time some psychopath mows down yet another innocent crowd of people, children included. Because “you can’t stop people from becoming evil or perverted if they want to be, so it will be meaningless to take away the tools meant for magnifying their potential for direct, targeted assault and collateral damage to absurdity”.

    You are a hack and a fool.

    • Not a Contrarian Apologist,

      It’s curious that you assume Nick Dodson would be against talking about gun regulation after a mass shooting. It’s almost like you are implying that everyone’s opinion falls within one of two opposing categories. Surely no independently minded UD student could possibly see the world so black and white. When you assume something, you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

      Aside from your irrelevant comment about second amendment rights, you fail to add any constructive criticism. Your entire comment consisted of personal attacks on Nick’s character.

      Next time you want to argue your case, I suggest finding flaws in his argument. Maybe see if he contradicts himself somewhere. If you are not able to find anything, maybe ask Nick some questions aimed to discover where his arguments are rooted and explain why you think that is wrong.

  4. I think that’s exactly his point. It is a common defense and I think he’s saying that body language SHOULDN’T be an acceptable form of consent nor should it be construed as such.

  5. “Rather, it often seems to create a false dichotomy that non-consensual sex is wrong while consensual sex is fine.” Hahahahahahhahahahha oh, I wish we could redact this article

  6. Screeching "MY OPINION" doesn't magically make it illegal to criticize you. You can say "it's my opinion", and it can still be fucking completely wrong. I know you are being told this for the first time in your life.

    Erin what the fuck is wrong with your head?? Are you serious?

    I am not even going butter to you like you are sentient. But what the fuck this? “Opinions can never ever be wrong, and never ever be criticized. Free speech means Illegal To Criticize Opinions.” “Heresy is never based in opinion, and an opinion can never ever be heresy.” “Wow I can’t believe you are so intolerant of this fine young gentleman SO INTELLIGENTLY CLARIFYING FOR YOU that fucking someone after they told you “No” is not wrong. It’s so messed up that you didn’t him for talking down on you and insulting your intelligence for thinking that consent is at all relevant to sex.”

    You are a fucking moron and do not get any say in this matter. Mind your business and stay in your lane or be punished. Cry about it more, you don’t know what it means to be a victim, shithead.

    • First of all, who are you quoting here? You do realize you can’t just put words in quotation brackets and pretend that is what Erin actually said right?

      Under the impression that you are paraphrasing Erin Chadwick here, he did not say anything remotely similar to “opinions can never ever be wrong, and never ever be criticized.” His whole argument was that people shouldn’t judge and condemn Nick because he expressed his opinion. If people find something wrong in his article they should debate him on the topic. Only then can we come up with the best solution.

      • Also I just realized that Erin Chadwick is probably a lady, sorry for addressing her as a him.

      • It is difficult to read “Here is someone who has a different opinion and he must be condemned as a heretic?” and conclude that the author does not believe that “heresy is never based in opinion, and an opinion can never be heresy.” That comment is very clearly motivated by relativist nonsense.

  7. It’s a lot easier to whine and cry that someone judged you, than to address the plethora of more than valid arguments others have presented for you to take, isn’t it? Way to avoid having to face the music by crying about being a victim instead, when you don’t have the first bit of comprehension of the word.

    Get used to the idea of your opinion being criticized when it is wholly incorrect, misguided, and outright foolish at best, and malevolent at worst, snowflake.

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