I'm in my second year now at the school with the sunshine. What I've learned in my time here thus far feels big and bizarre, as the tremor of knowing things often does for the young. I've learned how to read John Milton without using Sparknotes. I've learned how to play beer pong without ever having to actually drink the beer. I've learned that the best thing about love is that it's the opposite of fear. And, perhaps most importantly of all, I've learned that it is possible to challenge the beliefs of an institution without taking the institution itself -- or the sunshine -- for granted.
Activism has become a buzzword, often of the direst sort to skeptics who perceive its definition to mean acting against instead of acting towards. Activism, to me, is giving a voice feet -- to stand on its own, to stand with others, to stand for what is right, or at the very least, what is not wrong. Last week, The Huffington Post's Tyler Kingkade released a piece of truly harrowing journalism, chronicling the story of an alleged serial predator who graduated in 2014 from Stanford University with multiple rape accusations against him. Stories like this one are not new. In fact, our society has collectively begun to desensitize itself from campus violence and the national uproar over university responses, chalking activism up to radicalism and the vocalization of dissent up to hollow, youthful displays of political correctedness.
Stanford, like all campuses, has been rocked by sexual violence -- sometimes loudly, flagrantly, as was the case last year with the blue-eyed, baby-faced Stanford swimmer and Olympic hopeful caught sexually assaulting a highly intoxicated, unconscious young woman outside of a fraternity party. Other times, the rocking is quiet, echoed in Stanford's narrow definition of sexual assault in the climate survey conducted last spring (which limited an assault charge to penetration) and echoed in survivor confusion over how to report, and whether to. Stanford's premier health center does not offer a rape kit exam to survivors; they must drive all the way to Santa Clara (approximately 40 minutes from the Stanford campus) to undergo the 4-6 hour exam, then drive all the way back home again, often in a state of shock or total despair. This campus is persistently rocking. And the only way to keep it still? To rock it right back.
The mission of Stanford activists is two-fold, with a million layers beyond that: to work with administrators to understand the significance of survivor-centric politics and to eliminate tolerance towards a culture where "hooking up" is defined by the presence of two warm bodies and the absence of communication. While activism is inherently political, as it often calls for a change in policy, it is not inherently anti-institution. Challenging the unacceptable and the unaccepting within a flawed system is not the same as challenging the system itself. I am grateful every day for my higher education, and I refuse to let that be lost in my critical examination of its shortcomings.
Activism doesn't always entail an up in arms demonstration fringed with neon-lettered signs. The most successful activists I know at Stanford make noise through action. Last year's student body president co-chaired the Provost's Task Force on Sexual Assault and toiled to implement a set of recommendations that are radically improving our adjudication process. My roommate, who rocks the dance floor harder than anyone I know, is tirelessly working to have lights installed on a dark dirt path behind our fraternity row where young women and men alike feel unsafe walking alone at night. It is quite literally dubbed by students, "scary path." Sigma Nu fraternity, in partnership with my sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma, launched a NO MORE campaign this fall to abolish toxic justifications for violence like "boys will be boys," "we were both drunk," and, "but it doesn't happen at a place like Stanford."
Activism, however effective it is on its own, is most potent when centralized. National leaders on this issue like Annie Clark and Andrea Pino of The Hunting Ground and Alexandra Brodsky of Know Your IX have fought for so long to find a space for these conversations on college campuses. Now that we have finally made room, it's time to unite separate strands of thought amongst highly disparate and disconnected communities. It's time for the fraternity brothers and survivors and athletes and student government officials to sit side by side and develop an intersectional, inclusive, and result-oriented template for this discourse.
I founded The Fearless Conference in order to encourage a diversity of insight within the non-political perspective that the presence of sexual violence in this world stunts our collective humanity. The Fearless model uses workshops, speakers, storytelling, and writing to develop community-specific, cohesive action items for campuses and communities. I hosted my pilot NYC Fearless Conference with over 100 attendees, focusing on male allyship, consent-oriented primary education, a demystification of Title IX and university assault, and a breakdown of rape culture.
As a shameless byproduct of Silicon Valley culture, I run Fearless more like a startup than a non-profit, partnering with students across the country to cater the event programming to the precise needs of their campus audience. Fearless will expand to Stanford, Yale, and the University of Arizona this spring and fall. The overarching goal of Fearless is to bring together voices from all corners of campuses, refusing to tokenize survivors or communities where this issue runs most prevalent while recognizing that this movement will only be effective if it is survivor-led and community-oriented. Fearless is a platform for reclamation and collaboration, a chance to immerse oneself in a microcosm of campus culture as we dissect the greatest human rights violation of our generation.
On April 23rd, Fearless will take Stanford. I'm thrilled and excited and a little weary of the unprecedented. What will happen when voices collide? Where do we draw the line between sensitivity and creating a space where ignorance isn't wrong, just fixable? How do we give airtime to every nuance of this vastly tangled issue? We'll grow into the answers to these questions, just as we grow, together, into our community definition of "fearless."
The point of striving towards "fearlessness" isn't so that we achieve it -- I don't think anyone really can. The pursuit of "fearless" is more about figuring out where to place your fear, where to rearrange it so that it doesn't sit inside your chest like a lumpy sofa cushion. It's the nature of love to gamble losing your heart to someone else. But losing your body? That's no gamble - that's a crime, against you and against a world that rolls around on respect for human agency. "It's not your fault" is no cliché. Because - it's not your fault. No matter where you come from, what you were wearing, how many times you said "no," if you "hooked up" before, if he's a "really nice guy" - it's not your fault. And yes, it does happen at a place like Stanford.
If you are interested in hosting a Fearless Conference on your campus, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.