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Editorial | ‘Rainbow Steps’ is welcome name change

Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 02:12

Names shape our understanding of that which they denote. Their sound, connotations and literal meanings create a subjective impression of whatever they refer to; how different would it be if we were called the “Weasels” instead of the “Jumbos?” Similarly, places around our campus resonate with us in different ways based on their names. In light of the progress the university has made toward addressing the issue of sexual assault on campus, having the phrase “Rape Steps” as part of the Tufts vocabulary is distasteful and insensitive. It’s about time that we collectively change the name of the staircase by Wren Hall to something more upbeat —  the “Rainbow Steps.”

Last Sunday, members of Action for Sexual Assault Prevention and the Queer Straight Alliance took initiative by laying rainbow-colored bricks along this staircase. It is important to note that the students were working entirely on their own, as their initial plan to solicit the help of Tufts Facilities Services did not produce results of action. These students have taken an important step in changing the conversations surrounding sexual assault by urging peers to instead refer to the staircase as the “Rainbow Steps.” 

An Op-Ed published in the Daily on Dec. 2, entitled “Call them the Rainbow Steps,” outlined the various reasons for the change. The use of such a loaded and complex term in this context adds to the problematically casual understanding of rape that persists in our society. While many might like to brush this assertion off as over-sensitive, linguists and psychiatrists would beg to differ. For instance, Susan Smalley, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, recalls that “a word is like a living organism, capable of growing, changing, spreading and influencing the world in many ways, directly and indirectly through others.” One would be surprised the impact this supposedly funny name can have on people, especially those who have experienced sexual assault in the past.

The word “rape” creates an unnecessarily negative association with that region of campus and the entire university. Hearing it creates a sense of insecurity and taints the otherwise comfortable feel of Tufts. While there are numerous reasons for the change, the most basic one is that the name is, in the first place, based on a hoax started years ago. The term “rape steps” is well past its expiration date and will hopefully disappear as new Jumbos make their way to the Hill in the coming years.

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