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ASAP, QSA push for ‘Rainbow Steps’ name change

Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 09:12


Nick Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

Members of Tufts Action for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) and Tufts Queer Straight Alliance (QSA) last Sunday laid rainbow bricks along the steps located near Wren Hall, as part of a campaign to change the stairs’ name to the “Rainbow Steps.”

ASAP member Kumar Ramanathan explained that the student groups hoped to take a small step toward ending rape culture on campus by eliminating the steps’ controversial name.

“As we talked more and more about the way in which our culture normalizes rape and sexual assault, it was painfully obvious that this was a very, very obvious example of that on Tufts campus,” Ramanathan, a junior, said.

According to university lore, the steps, commonly referred to as the “Rape Steps,” were engineered to allow women to outrun male pursuers attempting to assault them.

Ramanathan said he first heard of the legend during his first couple weeks at Tufts and since then had continued thinking about the name.

“It was troubling to me, and it seemed to me that it was also troubling to a lot of people,” he said. “But that was just the cultural name.”

Ramanathan explained that the “Rape Steps” label helps to contribute to rape culture by trivializing experiences of rape and maintaining false perceptions about assault.

“It not only reduces this really real experience into a bad, insensitive joke, but it also erases the experiences that people have,” he said. “It’s tied to the crude social understanding of rape, which is that of male on female stranger rape in a dark alleyway at night.”

Junior Nathaniel Matthews, who is also an ASAP member involved in the project, explained that the idea to lay bricks came about as an alternative to more expensive and time-consuming options.

“First we emailed facilities and asked if we could paint the steps, and they said no because they thought the paint would come off really quickly,” Matthews said. “We asked them if they could build railings that we could paint. They said no. It would cost way too much money.”

Instead, about fifteen students collaborated to paint and arrange the bricks along the steps. Matthews said that he has received substantial encouragement from current students and alumni after submitting an op-ed to the Daily, published on Monday.

According to Ramanathan, ASAP began talking about changing the name associated with the steps last year, but only this semester had the idea of using a visual element to reinforce the change. Matthews added that the group chose to color the steps like a rainbow because the symbol is prominent and visually appealing.

“We wanted to pick something that we thought would actually catch on,” Matthews said. “If we just put up a plaque or told people to call them the “Wren Steps” or something it wouldn’t be as appealing and as effective.”

Matthews added that the rainbow represented solidarity with the QSA community and helped to dispel some of the myths perpetuated by the “Rape Steps” story.

“One of the reasons that the legend was so harmful was that it sort of reinforced the idea that rape is always a man raping a woman,” he said. “While that is the most common case, perpetrators and survivors could be of any identity or orientation. It’s especially hard for those people [of different identities] to seek help and resources if they need it.”

While ASAP and QSA members are unsure if the name will catch on, both Matthews and Ramanathan said they were hopeful the new label will stick.

“I have a selective view from my Facebook page, but there’s been overwhelming support,” Matthews said.

Ramanathan acknowledged that, eventually, the bricks will wear down and lose their coloring.

“We’re still trying to figure out a way to do this in a more permanent fashion but we really wanted to get the point across as soon as possible,” he said. “Every day that we continue to call these steps the ‘Rape Steps’ is just another tiny contribution to the normalizing and desensitizing of rape and sexual assault.”

Matthews added that the groups hope to help end the myth by stopping it at its source.

“As next year roles around, we want to see if we can get in touch with all of the orientation leaders, tour guides and pre-orientation leaders and ... show them the op-ed and say, ‘Most incoming freshmen hear this legend from you. Can you please not spread it?’” he said.

Ramanathan emphasized the importance of critically examining campus life and challenging norms to overcome rape culture.

“None of us have any presumptions that this will begin the dismantling of rape culture at Tufts as we know it, but I think lots of little changes like this can really help,” he said. “And it’s really important for us to be active in examining the culture around us.”

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