Tulane University Campus Programming hosted its first in-person event in over a year in the McAlister Auditorium with Aly Raisman. TUCP and Title IX fostered a moderated Q and A styled discussion with Aly Raisman, an American artistic gymnast and two-time Olympian. Moderated by Meredith Smith from the university’s Title IX office, the discussed Raisman’s experience as a sexual assault survivor, along with advice and personal testimonials.
As seats filled the auditorium, I noticed that the room was overwhelmingly filled with females. The lack of male representation spoke volumes of the patriarchal powers at play when it comes to rape and sexual assault. Male ignorance of this issue is a loud and violent silence.
Raisman’s first point of the evening addressed honesty and advocacy. Her impact statement is rooted in defiance. Rather than falling into the feminized prototype of the “victim,” Raisman works to defy not only her abuser but the larger institutional powers that push these damaging agendas.
Her sentiments morphed into reality only minutes into the discussion. Raisman politely paused and asked if the bright auditorium lights could be turned down to prevent a future migraine, a common and painful experience for the gymnast. After asking, the lights were dimmed. Moderator Meredith Smith highlighted how such a simple yet overlooked act of self-advocacy saved Raisman from an agonizing headache. This small example of honesty highlights a much larger theme in Raisman’s life.
Raisman walked along the fine line of her portrayal as a female victim, balancing anti-feminist tropes of being over-emotional with her own experience. During her testimonial, Raisman made the decision not to cry. She put up a wall, because she knows an emotional woman is not seen as strong, intelligent, or knowledgeable- rather nothing more than a victim. Raisman acknowledged that if she cried, she would probably have been believed, but seen as a mere victim.
Raisman avoided crying even the private eye of her family. One cannot lock away the trauma, yet she tried to turn it away. Raisman continues to work on opening up and accepting vulnerability. Would the media have covered her statement the same? Would she have been regarded the same? Yet Raisman chose to remove herself from the common discourse surrounding female victimhood in terms of sexual violence.
Raisman’s current goal involves balancing enjoying her life with the current trauma she deals with. She used to think that others would assume she fabricated her story if they saw her laughing or happy. The theme of balance became evident through Raisman’s tone. She repeated this sentiment: How many more times do survivors have to talk about their abuse? How many more times do we have to post? How many more times do we need to ask for help? How many more times…. Raisman noted that this fight pushes for something that should be obvious.
Raisman makes the point that all of the pressure falls on the survivor or the victim. There is a pressure to seek help, to find resources, to find justice. We as a Tulane community, survivors of sexual abuse or not, have an equally important job. Nonsurvivors need to invest just as much time in these issues. Men on campus must learn to acknowledge, understand, and dispel patriarchal norms and rhetoric that leave room for anti-feminist dialogue and mistreatment. If you hear about something suspicious or know you can stop a situation, take action. Survivors, as Raisman notes, should not always be the assumed mandated reporter.
Tulane University is not doing enough to aid survivors and stop the abuse. Yes- there are systematic establishments that provide outlets for reporting assault, but the disgusting continuation of this issue speaks volumes on its own. The student-run Instagram account, “boysbeware.tulane” which exposes and highlights anonymous stories of survivors, posted their Q and A following the Aly Raisman discussion. One anonymous reply wrote, “You have to tell your story dozens of times over and over reliving it every time. It’s genuinely painful having to think of being violently raped over and over again. I ended up having to stop the reporting process and case because it was so overwhelming.” Another post said, “So many girls don’t want to go through it because they male they get involved right after their trauma and ON TOP OF THAT does little to nothing to reprimand rapists.”
In the interview, the moderator mentioned Tulane had not completed a holistic statistical analysis of sexual assault rates since 2017. According to the report, Smith reports that 40% of females on the Tulane campus reported a sexual assault. These statistics represent nearly half of the female population, and on top of that, countless assaults remain unreported. This also does not account for gender non-binary students. The fact that the last comprehensive report on sexual assault was in 2017 is appalling. There are handfuls of women on campus assaulted each night, let alone 5 years.
We should be angry. This article is not merely an overview of Aly Raisman’s interview, but it is a clear message to the school that more needs to be done.
Rape and sexual assault is also a community issue. If you read this article and think, “it doesn’t affect me,” it does, and you are a part of the problem if you believe otherwise. There are systematic and warped patriarchal norms that come into play and ingrain beliefs within abusers that women and even men are open to objectification and abuse. The solution is not near but we must begin somewhere. Do not shy away from seeking help. Do not seek away from unifying against abuse.
Tulane’s 24 Hour Assault Hotline: 504-264-6074
SAPHE Peer Hotline: 504-654-9543
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673
Case Management and Victim Support Service: https://cmvss.tulane.edu/content/victim-support
TUPD: (504) 865-5381
Cover photo: ESPN