Vice-President Biden was at the University of New Hampshire today to riff on Gertrude Stein and remind students and faculty that “rape is rape is rape.” The occasion? Justice Department pressure on colleges and universities to improve campus safety around the issue of sexual assault. As an NPR story noted this morning, 1 in 5 female undergraduates will be the victim of such an assault, and (surprise!) “often alcohol is involved.” Ready for another surprise? Female students who are assaulted after they have been drinking, or after they have attended functions where alcohol has been consumed, are frequently seen as less than credible witnesses on their own behalf.
NPR’s coverage of the issue included attention to several of UNH’s harm-reduction programs, including the Know Your Power social marketing campaign:
Know Your Power “uses a community of responsibility model to teach bystanders how to intervene safely and effectively in cases where sexual assault may be occurring or where there may be risk.” Its graphics may not be the suavist, but the campaign draws intelligently on feminist theory (sex crimes are about power!) to make its points. It is also carefully diverse, with images acknowledging that men, too, can be victims of rape and intimate partner abuse.
In this, I would say it differs somewhat from my own institution’s attempts to use social marketing to reduce alcohol consumption on campus:
Generously funded by a Department of Education grant, the University of Florida’s “Less is More” campaign (which has been adapted for use in a variety of venues, including the city of Pittsburgh) plays on and supports what we might call “traditional” gender roles. When this is considered thoughtful attention to the way gender and sexuality figure into campus alcohol abuse, is it any wonder that feminist academics flee from thinking about the topic?
Alcohol education is a big business on campus. Joe (Gabriel, not Biden) drew our attention yesterday to the question of alcohol and drugs historians’ vexed relationship with med/psy researchers. Seeing the issue of alcohol-fueled sexual assault in the news, and glancing even briefly at the way our Student Services and Residence Life professionals address it, I wonder what relationship– if any– we have with them?