Choosing “Good Sex” as the subject of an email about campus sexual harassment/assault is…zany, at best. It struck me as “tactless” at the time. However, what bothered me most about the email you sent to the entire Duke student body on April 18, urging us to fill out this survey, was the surprisingly oblivious revelation that “we have more female identified than male identified respondents,” followed by a nudge to “step up guys!” Do we really have no inkling as to why women might be more represented, when the current U.S. president’s admitted approach to women is to “grab them by the p***y”?
In the middle of finals, I have opened another email on the subject of the survey. This one acknowledges the “papers and projects” that so many of us are engaged in as I type this. But it’s the paragraph that follows that has made a letter to you necessary. You write:
"I’m asking you to reflect on your own experiences as survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders. I’m asking you to relive painful moments or think about what this must be like for others. Yes, I’m asking much of you. But, I must do so. I must get each of you not to delete that RTI email (or to retrieve it) and to just sit down and respond. Your response is critical. Your response is essential. Your response is necessary."
You have grouped together “survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders” in one violent sweep, forcing those assaulted into the same room as their assaulters and offering bystander intervention in place of changes to this institution’s policies. You have framed the acquirement of our testimonies as your personal cross to bear—not a self-reporting that is welcomed, but rather, pried from our fingers. You have warped the rehashing of trauma into a moral necessity; your desire for a higher percentage of responses has become more audible than the threat to our mental health.
I don’t even think you realize what you’ve said. You end these letters with sweet words about your pride in the student body and warm wishes for our summers. And this is what makes it so difficult: how seemingly “unintentional” it all is.
Did you know that for some of us, the question, “But, did they know what they were doing?” is one that tricks us into thinking we are responsible for our own assault, and makes us hesitate before stepping forward to share?
Jessica Covil is a first-year PhD student in English.