Commentary

Why Brock Turner Should Talk to Campus Men About Sexual Assault

REUTERS/Noah Berger

A Stanford swimmer withdrew from the university after being accused of rape after a fraternity party on the campus.
June 09, 2016

 

My social-media feeds have been full of friends’ and colleagues’ dismay and frustration with the controversial — some would say ludicrous — statement Dan Turner made last week on behalf of his son Brock, a former Stanford University student who had just been sentenced to six months in jail after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman he met at a fraternity party. But, in between the excuses he made for his son and the tone-deaf language he used to describe the assault — "20 minutes of action" — he has a great idea. It’s an idea that could shape the lives of hundreds of people, even though it’s a lesson he and his son will probably never fully understand.

Turner’s father, perhaps trying to counter the viral social-media outcry after the victim’s statement, wrote an open letter about his son’s despondency over the accusation, his subsequent conviction, and his impending imprisonment. In his father’s mind, Brock isn’t a rapist; he’s simply a college-age male who became an overly amorous jerk after a night of drinking. Dan Turner suggests that Brock shouldn’t go to jail but should receive probation, so he can visit college campuses to speak about the dangers of "alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity."

White men on campus have been born with systemic advantages that give them access to opportunities that I, as an African-American woman, cannot fathom.
And this is where I agree with him: His son, who was convicted of sexual assault, should go on a mandatory tour of colleges, talking about his crime and its consequences.

However, that mandatory tour must be done at his expense — and after he has served his six months in jail. Another caveat: The audiences must be made up solely of white males.

This purposeful segregation is much needed on campuses around the country. It will probably never happen, yet it could be the most important moment in the college experiences of white men.

More often than not, when I hear of students facing university discipline for substance, verbal, or physical abuse, the perpetrators are white males. What is going on with these guys?

Of course, most white males on campus are not irresponsible drinkers, vandals, or abusers; most are bright and informed. Still, they are products of a system that shields them from facing the devastating harm they can cause.

White privilege, a societal phenomenon where the majority benefits simply by being in the majority, means the white men on campus have been born with systemic advantages that give them access to opportunities that I, as an African-American woman, cannot fathom.

It is this privilege that has created a chasm, or deficit, for the white guys. It is assumed that these young men have every advantage and, therefore, are not in need of tending and nurturing. That’s simply not true.

It’s not a coincidence that at a time when colleges are getting better at diversity and inclusion, news stories reveal white guys on college campuses acting up while struggling to find themselves. For them, philanthropy and brotherhood get lost in a culture of drinking and sexism celebrated in fraternities and dorms.

 

I teach at a predominantly white institution that is also predominantly female and, like many other such institutions, we make efforts to bring diversity to our expansive lawns. As a result, we have seen an increase in minority students, students who are openly gay, and students who are transgender.

We not only recruit these students, but we offer them programs, reading rooms, and mentoring services designed to make them feel at home on our campus. And I’m so proud of our work. But I have to ask: Would all of the programs we offer to empower women, students of color, and LGBT students be as necessary if there were programs that taught cisgender white male students to be more empathetic members of our campus community?

To not talk about how white males contribute to a culture of micro- and macroaggressions puts the onus on the abused to remedy the problem. Also, to ignore the relationship of these guys to the problem does a disservice to them, as they desperately need a good push into responsible adulthood. In fact, to give white males ownership of these issues is to acknowledge the tremendous responsibilities their postgraduation privilege will give them.

So, in this rare case, I have some privilege as a black woman on a predominately white campus. I can shout that the white guys need help, and no one assumes I’m being racist.

The consternation caused by the creation of a white-male support group that required mandatory membership upon matriculation would surely be counterproductive. Instead, alternative efforts should be considered. For example, all-male residence halls should take the lead on school-spirit efforts like responsible tailgates and planning the campus’s late-night activities.

Additionally, colleges should hone the mentoring skills of young white male employees. These faculty and staff members can talk to the students in ways that will encourage them to listen.

And Brock Turner may just be the ideal voice to talk about how a privileged life can be destroyed by 20 minutes of irresponsible, selfish, and hurtful actions. It’s a conversation that needs to happen, white guy to white guy.

Correction (6/9/2016), 1:45 p.m.: This essay originally said Mr. Turner had been convicted of rape. While many media outlets have referred to the crime as a rape, Brock Turner was convicted of sexual assault. The essay has been updated to reflect that.

Naeemah Clark is an associate professor in the School of Communications and director of the Communications Fellows Program at Elon University.