By Valerie McMurray – [email protected] – Staff Writer
The defacing of a memorial for sexual assault survivors on the quad sparked dismay and discussion within the UNC Asheville community following the discovery of chalk-drawn penises and lewd remarks by an unknown party.
A second message, claiming the incident was just an April Fools’ Day prank, was discovered after the first was cleared away.
The memorial went up at dusk on March 31, causing students to walk over the drawings to get to their early morning classes, according to Peyton Kennedy, co-leader of SPEAKUp, UNCA’s sexual violence awareness organization.
“I think it was triggering for a lot of survivors that they had to walk over the penises,” she said.
Kennedy said she first heard about the incident from a member of UNCA Feminist Collective, and the groups collaborated overnight to produce an open letter to the campus community:
“Rape culture is the everyday validation of language, laws and other socially acceptable behaviors that perpetuate rape and sexual violence. When we make jokes that reference women as teases and blanket statements that assume one person’s entitlement to anyone else’s body, we enable the idea that sexual violence against people is normal and excusable.
“These drawings and messages communicate to students and others on campus that not only is this an acceptable form of behavior, but also that this community is not safe for everyone. They convey a sense that survivors of sexual assault are targets of mockery and undeserving of compassion and understanding.”
At a panel discussion hosted by SPEAKUp and Feminist Collective on April 3, Laura Haire, a leader for UNCA Feminist Collective, said they “don’t have an issue with penises,” but they take issue with the defamation of the memorial and propagation of rape culture.
“We recognize that there is an opportunity here to have a dialogue and increase understanding,” Haire said. “We hope to encourage compassion and constructive change.”
“To write, ‘Everyone needs some dick,’ and to draw multiple penises at the site of a memorial to survivors is to participate in an act of misogyny, regardless of their intent and to reinforce the culture of rape,” said Keith Bramlett, a sociology and anthropology lecturer.
“I am sometimes asked, ‘Why are you so interested in these subjects?’ Often with a raised brow and more than a hint of suspicion, as though growing up male and becoming a feminist are off the map of human possibility. What I’d like to say is that my interest in these matters evolved from loyalty to particular women in my life,” he said.
“Everyone should have the right to freedom and bodily integrity. In that regard, what I’d like to say is that silence is complicity,” Bramlett said.
Kennedy and other members of the panel, including Jill Moffitt, assistant vice chancellor of student life and Title IX coordinator, said they are not concerned about who committed the chalking, but with the members of the campus community who, as survivors of sexual assault, feel emotionally impacted by the incident.
“There’s a lot of shame on these people. It’s not okay that their stories are not getting told,” Kennedy said. “Think if it had been a veteran memorial – there are a lot of similarities between veterans and sexual assault victims; they both experience PTSD on a regular basis.”
“People are saying, ‘You’re not going to end rape culture. You’re not going to stop people from doing what they want to do.’ I’m not about taking over like a dictatorship; I want to start a discussion, promoting critical thinking,” she said.
The panel sparked a discussion regarding the need for reform of cultural norms in the campus community.
“What we know is that 30 percent of sexual assault survivors will contemplate suicide. Fifty percent of non-consensual acts are facilitated through substances. Members of LGBTQ communities are more likely to experience sexual assault, as are African-American members of the community,” Moffitt said.
Moffitt said the discussion is important for survivors of sexual assault.
“I will not be made to feel like I am making this too big of a deal. I will not be made to feel like I am blowing this out of the water, because this is a big deal to survivors. If it’s just important to one person, that’s enough,” Moffitt said.
“It’s a serious thing, but we want to come at it with love and nonviolence. I want people to be educated, not enraged. Like Daniel Lee said at the panel, rage often comes from a place of deep sadness, and I think we were all deeply saddened by what happened. I think that a lot of people are shocked that it happened on our campus.”