An Open Letter to the BU Community

in Activism, Campaign, Feminism
April 5th, 2012

An Open Letter to the Boston University Community:

As advocates working to educate, prevent, and respond to sexual assaults on campus, the members of the Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism (CGSA) find the April Fool’s print-only edition of the Daily Free Press deeply disturbing, harmful and offensive. While the responsibility for the Disney Free Press falls on the Daily Free Press editorial board, we would like to go beyond addressing this specific incident and instead focus on a deeper cultural norm that encourages this kind of humor. We have divided this letter into sections to address our problem with the Disney Free Press and ways we can move forward as a Boston University community, dedicated to addressing and preventing sexual violence.

Rape Culture
Rape culture is a term used to describe a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even joke about sexual violence. Examples of behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification, and trivializing rape.

The April Fool’s edition of the Daily Free Press provides a concrete example of how rape culture manifests on our campus. By focusing their main “funny” article on sexual assault, The Disney Free Press turned the very serious topic of sexual violence at BU into a joke. If a school’s student-run publication is laughing about rape, it sets a precedent that it is okay to joke about rape. It is not.

Trigger Warnings
A trigger is something that causes an extreme and possibly damaging emotional response. A trigger warning is something designed to prevent people who have these reactions from encountering triggers unaware. Having these responses is called “being triggered.”

The majority of articles printed in the Disney Free Press are incredibly triggering. The first sentence mentions a violent “gang bang”. The next page alludes to someone being tied up in ropes and thrown into a van by hooded figures. Reading these words with no warning of their explicit content can be incredibly psychologically and emotionally damaging to people who have survived similar occurrences. Just like movies are required to do, we expect a newspaper journal to include a clear trigger warning or a disclaimer that the articles contain sensitive material when discussing topics such as rape and sexual assault. The importance of trigger warnings cannot be overlooked. Those who have experienced sexual assault or know someone who has been affected by sexual assault have the right to be warned before they read about rape.

Comedy and Satire
Comedy is great. When done right, comedy, especially satire, has the power to engage people in thoughtful dialogue, provoke traditionally held beliefs, and of course, make people laugh. However, attempting to satirize the recent and traumatizing events on BU’s campus was thoughtless and tasteless. Satire needs to be done responsibly or not at all. The label of “comedy” can protect the writers of thoughtless comments. But for someone affected by sexual assault, there is no protection from their comedy. They are isolated and told that they don’t have a sense of humor.

The joke edition of the Daily Free Press was, plainly put, not funny. It was insensitive. It would be inaccurate to call it satire, as satire is meant to “expose and criticize people’s stupidity and vices.” The current culture of rape jokes, trivializing and victim blaming could actually be hilarious. It is “funny” that despite recent events, our administration needs to be convinced to have a rape crisis center. It is “funny” that despite the ridiculous amount of money we pay for our education, we have to fight for basic resources. It is “funny” that one of the safest places on campus, filled with “magical creatures” like first responders who really care and a volunteer force trained regularly by the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, is entirely student run. Why not satirize that?

CGSA Resources
The Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism constantly strives to make BU a safe and accountable community. Located in the basement of the GSU, the CGSA has a variety of resources for BU students, including information on health providers and the various sexual assault resources the greater Boston area has to offer. The CGSA is also currently working on a petition for BU to get an Assault Response and Prevention Services office, which would include a physical space, paid employees for both counseling and preventive work, and a budget to do outreach on campus. To join our campaign in getting this office on campus, click here. For more information about the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism, click here.

Take Back the Night
Members of the CGSA and the Feminist Collective worked tirelessly for weeks to put together a Take Back the Night march and rally at BU, which happened Friday night. The event was a huge success, with members of the entire BU community coming together to stand up against sexual assault. This was a positive event, supported by the university, teaching people about rape culture and consent, and giving survivors a safe public space to share their stories. We had a huge turn-out of Greek Life members and worked closely with diverse student groups to make the event a success. To have this issue of the Daily Free Press come out the Monday following Take Back the Night was a huge slap in the face to all the organizers and attendees of the empowering event. We are proud of the work we’ve done, but it is clear that our work is not over.

The activism that has taken place at Boston University over the past few weeks has been nothing short of amazing. We have held town meetings, coordinated with the administration to bring events to campus. News about these events can be found here. Rape culture is about silence. It’s about not speaking up, about being a passive bystander, about not demanding the right to be safe from sexual assault. On this campus, we are saying no to rape culture. We are speaking out. And we will continue to do so until rape is no longer considered funny enough to make the front page.