Penn State

Forum weighs ‘rape culture’ at Penn State

Rosemary Jolly speaks during the “What is Rape Culture” forum hosted by the Progressive Student Coalition at Penn State Thursday.
Rosemary Jolly speaks during the “What is Rape Culture” forum hosted by the Progressive Student Coalition at Penn State Thursday. CDT photo

Protests and marches alone won’t get the job done.

There also needs to be a broader conversation about how to change what Progressive Student Coalition communication officer Kevin Reuning feels is “rape culture.”

The PSC, a graduate student organization, brought together community members and Penn State undergraduate and graduate students to discuss in an open forum what rape culture means, if Penn State has a rape culture and possible solutions. About 100 people attended Thursday in the Willard Building.

“We realized we clearly needed to talk about what the term rape culture means,” Reuning said. “It means a lot more than the physical act of rape. It means all the implicit assumptions that come with it that normalize rape.”

No one responded when asked if anyone in the group felt there wasn’t a rape culture.

“I would hope there are people here who don’t feel there is a rape culture, because I feel that’s the point of it,” Window of Opportunity, a community based activist group, president and PSC member Laura Shadle said. “I hope not everyone thinks about this the exact same way, so we’re not preaching to the choir and so we can respectfully understand each other and work through this.”

Senior Nicholas Sheers feels Penn State has a rape culture, in part perpetuated by the school body’s reputation as a party school.

“We all have same wants and desires, but some compromise it by going in the path of least resistance,” he said. “The easiest way to interact with people at Penn State right now is to go downtown and get trashed and talk to people. That’s the easiest path given to us, and somewhere in that your ideas and values get compromised.”

Forum speaker Rose Jolly, the Weiss Chair of human rights at the College of Liberal Arts, added that conforming to cultural stereotypes advances rape culture.

“I think there are a lot of goodies that come from conforming to certain masculinity aspects of this culture and that includes attitudes toward women when they’re seen alongside the car,” she said. “If you think of any ad for a car, it’s got the man who owns the car and the woman wanting the man, because he has that car and has that power, so it’s the notion if you’re the man who has the car you can have the women.”

It’s a cycle, Jolly said, that fails to educate people about healthy sexual relationships.

“We don’t encourage and educate young people to be able to differentiate between status and desire for someone, nor do we encourage people to be themselves because it’s a risk-taking activity,” she said.

PSC member Jeffrey Masko said discussion on rape culture shouldn’t be limited to Penn State or fraternities.

Graduate student Kate Anderson said Penn State, however, can lead the conversation to resolve rape culture.

“It’s a great thing this has been brought to surface, because it’s a chance to have conversations,” she said. “I’m an instructor of German, and one thing another instructor told me is that she overheard students having conversations about this, so they’re genuinely interested in it. It is a problem we have to try to collectively address in the world, but Penn State has been in the centerpiece for several scandals. It gives us the chance that if we can make positive strides we can lead the world to change rape culture.”