Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Change: Job one

So I’ve been thinking of the story I'm about to share a lot, what with being a Swattie (class of  ’89) and having taught there back in 1992-2000 and with Swat being in the news because of a certain Philadelphia magazine article. And as I mentioned, I’ve had former students and others contact me about their experiences on college campuses now. So, I share even though this isn’t totally my story.

I had an early morning departure for an ultimate frisbee tournament on Saturday and, leaving my girlfriend’s room, swung by my dorm room to pick up my cleats which I had forgotten. I walked in trying to be very quiet and discovered my roommate wide awake, dressed, showered, and studying while drinking a cup of coffee. Even for Swarthmore,  Satruday morning 7AM studying is unusual behavior.

“I had a night”, he said.

It turns out a guy on our co-ed hall, who, for the purposes of this story, we shall call the Viking, had drunk heavily the night before. Roommate had left the door unlocked (as many of us did) and awoke to the sound of running water. The Viking, stark naked, had opened our fridge and was peeing into it, under the impression perhaps, that anything white was a urinal. My roommate tried to dissuade the Viking from continuing to pee and was unsuccessful. My roommate then, I think, hid under the covers, hoping the Viking would go away. Instead, the stark naked Viking climbed into bed with the roommate, and declared “shut up and move over”. My roommate was out of the room like a shot, pounding on the RAs door. The RA, a woman, tried to wake the Viking who was now naked and passed out in my roommate’s bed. Eventually they found one of the Viking’s teammates who lived on our hall, said teammate physically carried the Viking back to the Valhalla (aka the Viking's room) and dumped him atop the bed.

Roomate filed charges with the college. The Viking, who was already in trouble for punching somebody at a party and some other things I'm not totally sure of, got kicked out.

Now this was 25 years ago but I think the incident is telling for a number of reasons. 1) My roommate knew that people would help him. 2) The college was ready to go after the Viking 3) My roommate was the kind of guy who had already cleaned the fridge by the time I got to the dorm that morning. And it was my fridge. Everybody was going to believe his version of events. 4) My roommate told people that I had left the night before for the tournament, because he didn’t think it was anybody’s business that I was at girlfriends’ dorm room all night.  I’m not still not sure if he was protecting her honor, mine, or just thought it was nobody’s business even though we'd been a serious couple for well over a year.

So the point is, as a guy, roommate felt pretty sure that a response would be quick, safe and effective. There are lots of women who are convinced that any response will be neither quick nor safe nor effective.  That would be Anonymous at Columbia and Anonymous at Harvard and Michaela Cross and so many others.  Too many others.  So sure, you can say “why are you letting him spoon?” but the answer is “because I thought it was the safest option because all other options looked like guaranteed horrible outcomes so I gambled hoping for the best not the worst.” Too many, do this because it's a rational decision.  So what is to be done?

 Changing the reality that (and the perception) that reporting is worse than surviving is job one right now.

This was originally published in slightly different form as a comment at Lawyers, Guns and Money.  

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