Alexa Petersen | Jeminist: A Jumbo Feminist
On the volleyball game
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 02:10
As my column is meant to address women’s issues, I feel compelled to address the incident reported at the women’s volleyball game last week. Briefly, there was a group of students at the volleyball game who were allegedly verbally harassing the Smith College volleyball players and the Tufts volleyball players and coach with sexist, racist and xenophobic comments. The Tufts Daily published an op-ed on Sept. 25 written by Tufts student Rose Barrett addressing the incident, and on Oct. 1, the Daily reported that the Office for Equal Opportunity (OEO) launched a third-party investigation of the accusations. The OEO has not yet reached a conclusion.
Hearing the quotations of verbal harassment documented in Barrett’s op-ed, many of us can’t help but cringe. We are disappointed that these students represented our school and so gravely disrespected the female players and coaches. Many of us feel anger directed specifically toward these perpetrators — we cannot imagine what could have possessed them to say those things.
Despite this anger, I want to remind Daily readers that somewhere in time, somewhere in these perpetrators’ lives, someone showed them that their behavior was okay. Someone showed them with their silence. Someone showed them with their laughter. It takes a village to raise a child, and it also takes a village to create expectations for how that child acts. I doubt this is the first time they have made comments that belittled groups of people, jokingly or otherwise.
The power that we have as bystanders is astronomical. We have the power to speak, to act and to advocate. We have the power to show someone why they shouldn’t disrespect someone else on the basis of gender, race, origin or otherwise. And if a critical mass of people, somewhere along the line of those perpetrators’ lives, had given them legitimate reasons for not saying the things that they said, maybe — just maybe — they would not have said them.
We have the power to ask someone to stop when we see them catcalling a female Tufts student walking on campus. We have the power to ask our parents to rephrase their statement when they tell us that we should marry a “rich guy” — because it shouldn’t matter if he’s rich and it shouldn’t matter if he’s a guy. We have the power to call out someone in our anthropology class who assumes that a low-income person means a person of color. We have the power to say something when someone tells a person of Hispanic origin to go back where they came from.
Barrett’s op-ed exemplifies the power of the bystander — she has helped bring attention of this incident to the entire student body. Her advocacy will no doubt affect how Tufts Athletics — and the Tufts University Police Department — addresses the protection of their athletes and coaches at sporting events and in general. She did not just say something — she did something. And the campus is better off because of it.
There are those on campus who may feel antagonistic toward this cause or may feel that being an active bystander is simply unnecessary. To those students, I implore you to consider that treating others with respect and dignity is not a radical or liberal idea. It is not a Tufts idea. It is a human idea — an idea that deserves our attention because it means treating others with the respect and dignity that we, ourselves, expect to be treated with.
We must never abandon or trivialize the power we have as bystanders — to say something and to do something. To never stand idly by.
Alexa Petersen is a senior majoring in political science and peace and justice studies. She can be reached at Alexa.Petersen@tufts.edu.