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Letter to the Editor: Why men should talk about sexual assault

Given the recent columns in The Daily Princetonian, “Rape Culture exists here, too” and “Speaking Up,” it is evident that sexual assault is a problem on campus. Some may disagree over the scale of the problem, but regardless of one’s views on drinking or hooking up, we can all agree that there are far too many instances of sexual assault at the University and across the country.

The University administration has tried to combat the problem by instituting harsh punishments and establishing a number of health services related to sexual assault prevention. Though organizations such as Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources & Education offer great resources, the problem has not gone away. To effectively combat sexual assault, change has to come from within the student body. Cultural change does not come easily and will not happen overnight. However, difficulty is not an excuse for inaction.

Speaking from the perspective of a male varsity athlete and member of a Bicker club, I contend that men need to have an honest conversation about what we can do to combat sexual assault. The logical place for this conversation to start is within fraternities, athletic teams, performing arts groups and eating clubs.

These conversations will be awkward at first. We, as men, need to think about how women will feel after a hookup, especially when there’s alcohol involved. In the heat of the moment, do we really ask ourselves whether the woman is going to feel sad, hurt or violated? It’s hard to entertain these thoughts when the beer and testosterone are running high. But if we talk about it in quieter times, we can help each other think twice later on during a night out.

This dialogue will open up a larger conversation about why we value certain ideals of masculinity that directly or indirectly contribute to sexual assault. Perhaps it’s actually far less masculine to “get your numbers up” than it is to make sure women aren’t taken advantage of. Perhaps it’s far less masculine to try to “slay girls” than to realize that women who are victims of assault are current and future friends, sisters and mothers.

The terms “numbers” and “slaying” are often used in a joking manner. However, this kind of language, even as jokes, undoubtedly affects and shapes how men perceive what masculinity means. Though these notions may not directly cause sexual assault, they definitely are not helping fix the problem.

I realize that I do not have all the answers in combating sexual assault. However, what I do know for sure is that this dialogue needs to take place, regardless of our opinions. One of the things that make sexual assault such an insidious problem is that these topics are never talked about.

Starting these conversations will be uncomfortable. However, if we take a step back, we’ll realize that the potential ridicule by our friends pales in comparison to the deep hurt that the victims of sexual assault experience.

I am very optimistic that we can make a difference at Princeton. Even in the process of writing this column, I have had the chance to speak with fellow teammates and club members about this issue and have only been encouraged by where our conversations have gone. Let’s talk, men.

Kevin Zhang ’15

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