The following is a letter to the editor written by Rebecca Koval (’09) and published in both the Ring Tum Phi and the Trident in response to campus reception of KEWL's Love Your Body Week.
I am an English major. I feel the need to state this up front because I do not deal with emotions. I deal with the thoughtful and reflective articulation of emotions. Thus, it is a great aberration for me to utter “repugnant,” “deplorable,” and “unconscionable” with red face and wildly gesticulating limbs. Such was my reaction to information I received regarding responses to KEWL’s “Love Your Body Week” in conjunction with SPEAK’s Take Back the Night rally designed to give voices, strength, and solidarity to those of us who have been judged and abused by a culture that applauds the merits of men while degrading the value of women.
Then I overheard the following from my seemingly well-educated first-year male peers:
“Dude, what are those cards?”
“They’re so fat chicks with low self-esteem can feel better about themselves.”
The responses to the cards and the posters on display throughout campus have ranged from concerns over the welfare of the Common’s walls to pornographic displays to the reputation of W&L in general. To these ends, I question the following: How does the cost of repairing the shattered confidence of a woman raped by a trusted friend compare to the cost of a coat of paint? How can one oppose vehemently the “pornographic” display of women’s bodies cut from the pages of Cosmo and defend the sale of Maxim in the University Bookstore? How does one remain mindful of the future wisweeping issues under the rug to retain the appearance of gentility rather than support students actively engaged in making the campus a better and safer place to live? And to those of you concerned about the supposed material inappropriate for children, I would like to remind you, as my good friend so eloquently phrased it, that the Commons is not a civic center. If we cannot express ourselves freely in a building designed to bring our community—not the greater Lexington community—together, will there ever be a safe place for the necessary albeit controversial discourse of students hoping to enter the real word as free-thinking adults?
I am sure no one would counter me in stating W&L is hardly a campus of activists; therefore, it amazes me how a few posters commenting on the reality of life at W&L can cause such an uproar. To enact real change requires provocative ideals alongside incontrovertible fact, both of which were embraced in the construction of this campaign. From an institutional standpoint, W&L expects to be taken seriously by peer colleges, and I completely understand the necessity of maintaining strong public relations. But does anyone really believe that the way to do this is to hide behind a façade of student efficacy when, in reality, our attempts are thwarted? Yes, these statistics and images are terrifying and offensive. But what is even more offensive is the unwillingness to accept the empowering message behind them all in an effort to make W&L safer, not just for women, but for everyone. If we are to deny these realities, then let us stop pretending to be anything other than an apathetic and reprehensible student body.
No well-rounded, intellectual, and innovatively-minded prospective student would make a decision on an institution of higher education without first gathering all the information pertaining to his or her future safety. Although a subsequent apology was issued, tour guides were commanded at the beginning of the week to avoid the front doors of the library at all costs because parents would become alarmed, and the guides just would not have the time or the information to explain everything. Of course. How does one explain a rate of sexual assault that is two times the national average on a campus that professes slavish devotion to honor and accountability?
I am bound by confidentiality as a result of my position as a Peer Counselor, but I can tell you that W&L’s rate of sexual assault is not twice the national average. It is much greater than that, but we will never have a conclusive statistic to validate my assertion because ours is a culture, like everywhere else in America, of underreporting. It is demoralizing to see those around me demonstrate such hostility to women struggling for validation to overcome the wrongs that have been done to them simply because they did not have the good fortune of being born a man.
To those of you as enraged as I have become this past week, I urge you to initiate the ongoing dialogue that the uninformed among us have tried so immaturely to stymie. Why? Because the outline of my body is now strapped to a tree with statistics to which the traumas of my friends have contributed. Because my story is on one of those cards that you, dear first-year male, derided with such swift dismissal. I will not be belittled. I will not be ignored. And I will certainly not be silent.
Rebecca A. Koval
Class of 2009