Around Labor Day Weekend 19 years ago, I made one of the most bold decisions of my life. I said, "no."
I've spent much of my life working to end campus sexual violence. I founded my current company, O'actually, out of a belief that a celebration of women's sexuality and our pleasure could heal and better the world. My remarkable team and I created O'actually with the intention that our platform would become a safe and trusted space for women to explore their sexual pleasure as a means to become more confident, self-expressed and fulfilled adults.
"FUN" and "PLAYFUL" (and giggle) are of my favorite words and pastimes. However, there are moments when in protection of all the fun there is to be had, a more serious reflection is needed. Now is one of those times.
Recently, there has been intense media coverage of an assault that occurred at a New Hampshire boarding school called St. Paul's. What you might not know, is that I attended St. Paul's for my first two years of high school. Two weeks before I was meant to return and start my junior year there, I made one of the boldest decisions of my life and I said "no." No to St Paul's; no the un-checked elitism; no to the culture of misogyny and racism. I made that declaration just days before the Labor Day holiday 19 years ago.
Of course, I am deeply saddened that in nearly two decades, it appears that little has changed by way of campus culture. I appreciate that the media is programmed to share this story as an event that occurred only between two teenagers. However, it is my belief and understanding that this story is most accurately articulated as a failure of an educational institution to foster a culture of true respect. St Paul's failed these students and their campus community.
My surprise over first hearing about this case was not that there was an assault on campus, but that there was a young woman brave enough to come forward. That further begs the question, "What are we teaching our young men?" Who will be held responsible for creating and sustaining campus rape culture? This was a 17-year-old boy raised by St Paul's. As an institutional parent, it is beyond time for St Paul's (*and all of our educational institutions*) to become dramatically better parents to their boys and girls.
When I was at St Paul's, female student role models proved an important and impactful role. Senior and junior girls shared their experiences and performed skits for us first-years and sophomores to educate us about how we could best protect ourselves and prevent assaults. But how frightening is it that we're leaving a crux of assault prevention in the hands of 17/18 female students? And I'll admit a deeply disturbing truth. An initial reaction of mine to learning about this case was, "Shit! She should have known better than to meet up with that kid!" Then I remembered, she was a 15-year-old first-year getting sweet messages from a senior... It's a knowingness of a deeply disturbing truth around St Paul's and wider boarding school culture that had me think it's strange that she accepted his invitation to meet. What I hope will someday be extremely strange is young men being taught and believing in a false, harmful and limiting sense of masculinity that accepts, even celebrates, the assault of female bodies.
It's past time to hold the institution themselves responsible for unchecked misogynistic campus culture and these crimes that inevitably follow. It is now time for schools like St. Paul's to step up and take proactive action towards ending the culture of "boys will be boys and girls should know better." It's time for a genuine honoring of women.
It's time to have the skits be lead by male seniors and have them highlight all the different ways that saying 'no' can occur, and how to respect it, 100 percent, period. It's time to honor that when women say no, are intoxicated and/or are in any other way fearful, scared and unwilling, the only response is to STOP. Immediately. I yearn for that skit to be top of mind and performed far and wide.
Of course my heart is most concerned with the now just 16-year-old young woman. She is full of remarkable courage and believes in herself enough to speak her truth (just the qualities we tend to tell ourselves that if only young women just had more of...they'd be safe). Her bravery will possibly and hopefully be the catalyst for tremendously needed change.
Finally, my deepest thanks to the many courageous survivors of trauma who in sharing their stories make the world a more honest and safer place for us all. You are our heroines and heroes.