Editorial: Behavior during male sexual assault assembly unacceptable


By Editorial Board

The administration arranged for community educator Cheryl Banks to speak to the student body yesterday about preventing and avoiding sexual assault. The students were divided by gender in order to deliver different messages to boys and girls.

Banks highlighted an important message: we must all bear the consequences of our actions and we have a moral obligation as members of our communities to stand up to stop sexual abuse. The prevalence of rape and sexual assault and the culture of rationalization and tolerance for abuse is a sinister aspect of our culture that needs to change.

Some members of the boys’ audience, however, didn’t seem to get the message. After nearly every comment from Ms. Banks came a cacophony of jeers, cheers, and, above all, clapping. Ms. Banks would recount the most horrific stories and, as regular as clockwork, a round of applause would follow. While the clapping died down during the second half of the assembly, it seemingly set the tone for the rest of the discussion.

Put simply, this behavior is unacceptable. The boys clapping were disrespectful not only to Ms. Banks, but also to all women, and indeed even men. When discussing something as serious as sexual assault and rape, mockery and jeering are not acceptable responses. When students trivialize the issue by acting in such a manner, they retrench the poisonous culture we all want to change. These actions are an embarrassment to the school and reflect terribly on the student body Whitman prides itself upon.

During several classroom discussions following the incident, many boys said they felt like they were “unjustly accused” by the speaker. This criticism reflects prior biases and convictions and ignores her entire point: though the system may be unfair and biased, people should understand the potential consequences of their actions.

In the end, the rudeness in the male audience is the exact reason why we need such an assembly. A male culture that treats rape and sexual assault like a joke is the perfect breeding ground for even more violence. The very reason we held such an assembly was to try to raise awareness and reverse it: the disrespect shown in the boys’ assembly shows we have a long way to go.

Click here to read a news story about the assembly.

Video by Naba Khan and Jay Silver.