In the month of October, social media outlets were flooded by #MeToo, with the intent of starting a conversation about the widespread experience of sexual assault and abuse of power. Prompted by the ever-increasing allegations of assault from Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, the hashtag took over newsfeeds with celebrities and friends, men and women alike. Amid debates about mandatory chapel and sabbath regulations, it was interesting to note the loud silence on campus about this subject of immense importance.
Aside from an email about Covenant’s resources for dealing with such matters, the campus has been oddly hushed—understandably, as this topic is wrought with emotion and complexity. Perhaps we can take a moment to stop talking about the reformation, folk music, and restaurants to give recognition to the one in four women and one in six men who are living with the painful repercussions of another’s actions. What has been very disconcerting to me is the general feeling on campus that Covenant is in some way immune from these statistics and sins because of our Christian label.
Last Spring, after the annual sexual assault survey had been distributed among students, I was in a conversation that has plagued my conscience ever since. A well-intentioned upperclassman said, “Oh no, I didn’t waste my time on that survey—I mean, it’s Covenant! That kind of stuff doesn’t happen here.” The three girls standing around him all stood dumbstruck for a moment and then softly said that it did indeed happen here.
Eight months later, I still regret not being louder in that conversation. I regret not telling him how frequently it happens here. I regret letting personal privacy and fear keep me from telling him of personal experiences, unwanted crass pictures, and dozens of friends who have experienced various forms of sexual assault on and off this campus during their time at Covenant. The moment we begin to think that we are exempt from a certain sin or abuse is the moment that we are most susceptible to it. Covenant, though Christian, is full of every type of sin and every type of pain. We are not special in that regard. There are many people here who could say #MeToo.
It is the “it doesn’t happen here” mentality that keeps victims feeling alone and like they are to blame. The #MeToo campaign has sought to provide a community and solidarity amongst those who have suffered sexual assault, while the Church has often cast shame, ostracization, and blame-shifting through talks of “modesty” and “asking for it.”
Our conversation at Covenant needs to stop being about if abuse happens here and turn to what happens next and why our culture allows it to happen. In fact, it can be in many ways harder here as victims wrestle to reconcile sexual assault from students who in name proclaim to be Christians. Do we quickly brush over sins because of “forgiveness”? Because the perpetrator is on our sports team? Because they’ll graduate soon? Because the situation is hazy?
A hashtag has started a conversation—now let’s stop talking about it abstractly and start talking about how it happens here. Be careful not to throw around Title IX as a joke—it’s some people’s reality. Be watchful for people in pain around you. Be wary of your assumptions. Only by acknowledging the vastness of the problem on and off our picturesque campus do we begin to practice the faith we profess and to be an authentic community.