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Op-ed | When decorum is lost

Published: Monday, November 26, 2012

Updated: Monday, November 26, 2012 07:11

 

On Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, members I recognized from Tufts Wilderness support staff gathered in Dewick MacPhie for dinner. Although I am not a part of that organization, I happened to go to Dewick at the same time they were there, and I witnessed them make an offensive spectacle, including chants that were hurtful and made me personally uncomfortable, and I do not believe I was alone in that.

The students in costume arrived in Dewick for dinner on that Friday at around 6:45 p.m. This in itself was not offensive — I personally am a huge proponent of costumes and public shows of camaraderie. I’m impressed and very glad that this group of students has managed to maintain close connections long after pre-orientation ended. However, the group members did not stop at costumes. 

First, they came up and demanded that students sitting in an upstairs section eat as quickly as possible or move tables, because they had “claimed” that section. As a student sitting in this area, this was perplexing. All students have equal rights to that space, and in regard to table space, it is usually a first-come, first-served arrangement. They had no claim to this space, other than their self-proclaimed right. This visibly upset some students, who told them it was rude, which did lead them to stop yelling ... for a moment.

However, the offenses continued to flow. These students began to chant very loudly, disrupting all other students’ meals. During these chants, they pounded on tables, causing someone’s drink to fall over and another person’s plate to be knocked over and broken. 

Their chants began innocuously enough in words. It did not remain so for long. They interacted with the other students very inappropriately, and used a lot of swear words in conversations with complete strangers. These chants soon became sexually explicit. I recall hearing them use the phrases “rusty trombone,” “pearl necklace” and “cream-filled pussy,” which are colloquialisms for explicit sexual acts. If this was not enough, the way the chants were stated included the phrase “she got” before naming a sexual act.

Such sexually explicit language has no place in a public forum. I understand that we are all college students and that this environment has very much become home for many of us. However, that applies equally to all students. I have a right to not be assaulted with such language while attempting to have dinner with friends. This language also echoes strongly of rape and sexual assault, in joking manners. Their chants suggested that the person who “got” the act had not consented to it. 

Sexual assault is not a joke. One in three women, and one in six men are sexually assaulted in their lives, and most of this occurs during or before college. This means that I can say almost positively that some of the students overhearing these chants are sexual assault survivors. Such language has the ability to bring them back to a time when they “got” something they didn’t want. This is inexcusable.

There is a problem, both within Tufts and in the rest of society, where talking about situations of sexual assault is seen as something to joke about. It is not. What these students said was inflammatory and offensive. I simply ask that such phrases not be said in public, in the company of strangers, whose lives and struggles you are unfamiliar with, whose demons you have not seen — especially when what you say can bring back those demons.

I am thankful to the Wilderness pre-orientation program for being a safe and fun space for freshmen to be introduced to Tufts. What happened that night is not representative of all of the great work these students have done. I also would like to applaud some of the members of Wilderness support staff, who came up and apologized to some of the students who were upset or affected by this behavior. However, the students doing the apologizing were not the same as the ones who caused the need for an apology. 

I also understand that this may not have been the desired meaning for these chants, but this was how they were interpreted both by me and by the people I was having dinner with. A number of these Wilderness students are my friends. This is not meant to be an attack, just a reminder that this is a discourse that is ever-continuing, and a call for attentiveness on the part of all students in the Tufts community and personal responsibility for such actions.

I write this op-ed as a reminder of the fact that we live in a society that perpetuates a rape culture, and it is apparent everywhere you look. Nobody is perfect; we all say things we regret. However, when something like this happens in such a public forum, it must be addressed. What was said in the dining hall that night was offensive and hurtful. All I ask is for respect, and a pledge that we all think before we speak, especially when it comes to such sensitive topics as sexual assault and rape. 

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John Kelly is a sophomore majoring in sociology. He can be reached at John_M.Kelly@tufts.edu.

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