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Call-out culture vs. call-in culture: the tug of war to end sexual assault

March 30, 2018

This piece represents the opinion of the author .

Rape culture exists at Bowdoin, too. The pervasiveness of sexual assault and sexual harassment in Hollywood is a microcosm of rape culture that plagues the country. Still, one can feel far removed from the high-profile cases of sexual assault among entertainers without a local perspective. I myself didn’t recognize the pervasiveness of rape culture at Bowdoin until my sophomore year, after hearing multiple reports of sexual assault against female students. In November 2015, Zachary Duperry ’18 created Bowdoin Safe Walk, a Facebook group in which students could sign up to walk or drive others home and ask to be accompanied by students from the list of students who signed up to volunteer. Some of the students I walked home told me they were sexual assault survivors, so their appreciation of the Safe Walks deeply affected me. Those experiences defogged a lens through which I could see sexism and misogyny at play. It would be a disservice to all the activists in the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements if we didn’t look for the sexual impropriety in our own communities.

As with most social justice debates at Bowdoin, thoughtful conversations about the #MeToo movement are happening in silos. I wish to share such thoughts and invite others to participate in the dialogue. Some Bowdoin women have expressed interest in a “call-out culture.” Call-out culture refers to the practice of publicly naming and shaming those who violate a recognized moral code—in this case, the violation is sexual assault. Several of the reactions by men to call-out culture that I have heard so far were cautious of the idea. “What if the accused person didn’t do anything? You don’t want to ruin his reputation over a lie.” Well-intentioned men might choose to defend an accused male sexual aggressor, and among these men are those with the subconscious fear that they, too, could be accused in the future. It may be anxiety-inducing to trust fellow students to judge fairly, but I think that one of the reasons for this fear is that deep down, we are aware that sexism is deeply entrenched in American life.

From childhood, women are force-fed notions of propriety like the banning of leggings from some school dress codes because they are “distracting” to men (an actual justification that my high school gave for a no-leggings policy). America is constantly policing girls’ behavior and attire so boys don’t “lose control” over their hormonal urges. Men, however, can go through their adolescent years without understanding social cues, micro-aggressions or any obvious signs that they may be offensive to women. The rising generations must unlearn this mis-education for the dream of gender equality to ever be realized.

Still, some students might be ambivalent about a call-out culture because there are potential dangers if the retribution becomes excessive. A student might be considering a younger brother, wishing for him to be given the benefit of the doubt before being condemned as a sexual aggressor. These concerns are legitimate, but who exactly are we trying to protect? Calling-out is a last resort, a sign of urgency.

Hideyoshi Akai ’19 had a compelling solution that could not only protect sexual assault victims, but also attempt to correct sexual transgressions. Akai suggested that there be a panel of students who nominate themselves to handle sexual misconduct reports from named or anonymous students. Like Safe Space members, these students would be invested enough in the cause to handle cases judiciously, offering a resource that is both hands-on and hopefully preventive in the long run. Given that Bowdoin is an institution of higher learning, the punishment should be educational.

While sexual assailants may simultaneously proceed through Title IX, this resource is designed to hold students accountable to the student body, which may be even more compelling an incentive for some to rethink their actions. I would advise that there be a diverse pool of students based on sex, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, to name a few characteristics. I even wonder if Safe Space might be interested in forming such a group—which I’ve dubbed “the call-in system.” The proposed student resource would deliberate on accounts from whoever reported an assault before they confront the alleged aggressor in private. Reminders about our pledges to Bowdoin’s social code and basic human decency could instill in accused aggressors a serious commitment to the community. Some students would appreciate this tactic if they were behaving poorly out of ignorance.

I trust the professionalism of Bowdoin’s Title IX process, but think it could be helpful to provide survivors with another resource, one with a stronger pulse on the student body’s social expectations. This call-in system may seem, to some, just as excessive as a call-out culture. Others could argue that the Bowdoin administration should do the brunt of the educational work by programming and instilling a clearer stance against sexual violence. Ultimately, various possibilities should be considered no matter how unconventional.

From my vantage point, none of these proposed initiatives would be necessary if men were holding their male friends accountable. To the men reading, don’t simply be a lip-service feminist. If you don’t have that stern talk with your friend, roommate or relative about their disturbing sexual interactions with women, you’re part of the problem. Be part of the solution.

Be part of the solution.


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  1. Class of 2020 says:

    As a survivor of sexual assault who’s assailant remains on campus I must say that when somebody tells you about the most painful thing that has happened to them, believe them. That is not something that people generally lie about or exaggerate. There are statistics to back this up. I disagree that a student board is a good idea. Survivors do not want to share their stories with a random board of students. I think that if Bowdoin did a better job of instilling the social code as it pertains to gender violence from first year orientation and several times after, in the same way that we consistently hear about the honor code, that would be hugely beneficial. The College also has to be better about removing assailants from campus permanently instead of recommending they take a semester abroad (for example). We have a zero tolerance policy for plagiarism, but so few assailants actually are removed. What kind of message does that send to the student body about our “social code” ?

    • Bowdoin Student says:

      I don’t think the piece was suggesting anything about false reporting of sexual assault. Rather, it is important to have a carefully-considered course of action upon receiving accounts of sexual assault. Maybe all of these initiatives should be implemented.

  2. Class od 2018 says:

    There is a ‘panel’ of students who undergo specific training to resolve incidents of sexual misconduct — the College’s Judicial Board. They’re underutilized for a variety of reasons. There’s also several ways for survivors to resolve, reconcile or address grievances and ‘Title IX’ process is a huge umbrella term which encompasses more than one way of doing so.

  3. 2017 says:

    The idea that safe space would host a deliberation on whether or not a sexual assault has occurred or not is deeply antithetical to the purpose of the group. As a member of Safe Space when I attended Bowdoin, I know that the role of the group is not to judge, or decide, but rather to support those who come to us as best we can. To conflate a service founded on support, care, and empathy, with one whose purpose is to pass judgement on what is often one of the most humiliating and painful times in a survivor’s life, is to detract from the mission of the group and the support it is currently able to provide.

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