Please take the time to read the powerful message that W&L Senior Ryan Scott delivered at Take Back the Night earlier this evening:
A Stronger, Loving World
Sexual assault is an issue surrounded by silence. Less than one-third of sexual assaults are reported to the authorities, and that number is even lower among male victims of sexual violence. Those in positions of authority and privilege often seem hostile to open discussions of instances of sexual abuse, whether they be the supporters of the Steubenville football team or the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America—and I say that as a proud Eagle Scout with a great love for the organization.
Even among those who want to be active bystanders and support survivors of sexual assault, findings the words to break the silence is often difficult. What could one possibly say to address the reality of the issue? What words could possibly do justice to what survivors have gone through?
But cloaking human suffering in quiet is rarely the answer. Ignoring violence doesn’t make anything better. If there was ever a time when silence was morally permissible, that period has long since passed.
On this campus and across the nation, more and more voices are speaking up to address issues than have been hidden in the dark for far too long. People are beginning to acknowledge and address the alarmingly high rates of sexual assault on college campuses. The White House has launched the It’s On Us campaign to raise awareness and to remind the nation that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. College administrations across the country are stepping up to take a more active role in helping to make campuses safer for everyone.
Even since the time that I was a first-year, there have been phenomenal changes on the Washington & Lee campus. SPEAK has taken a greater role in teaching incoming students about the importance of being an active bystander. The University has formed a Healthy Sexual Culture Committee to better coordinate the efforts of various campus groups to create a safer community. Two students in particular, Anna Kathryn Barnes and Noelle Rutland, have done something very powerful: they have given survivors a chance to tell their stories. Survivors of sexual violence deserve a platform from which to be heard and we need to listen to them if we are going to keep striving in our efforts to always be a community of honor.
W&L has been making great strides, but we can’t rest on our laurels. Having this conversation is an important first step, but it is just that: a first step. We need to commit ourselves to be willing to say or do something if we see that our peers might be in trouble. We must promise ourselves and each other that we will work to build and maintain a community of real trust. If we do not follow our words with actions, if we do not take concrete steps to make this campus a healthier and safer place for all, then all our talk becomes the proverbial sound and fury that signifies nothing.
So if you take anything from tonight, remember this: Washington & Lee, this university with its fabled history, is nothing greater or less than us. We are this university, this community. It is up to us to determine whether this will be a place where everyone can feel safe, or if it will not be. It is our responsibility to create a space where a student does not have to feel nervous at a party because they know that they can rely not only on their friends, but upon the rest of the W&L community to be active bystanders to help them against those rare individuals who would act dishonorably. We are all of us blessed with a brief four years on our Colonnade, and that blessing comes with the responsibility to ensure that no student ever fears leaving an abusive relationship because they feel they won’t be supported by their administration and their fellow students.
From what I have seen of this community over the past three and a half years, I am confident that we are more than up to the challenge. So if, during your time here and beyond, you feel discouraged in your efforts to help your fellow men and women, remember tonight. Remember every other person here. Each and every one of them is a reminder of something that most of us desperately need to hear: that there are many other wonderful people who feel and think much as you do, and who care about their fellow human beings as much as you do. You are not alone.
Sexual assault has been an issue surrounded by silence for too long. In recognition of the silence that has shrouded survivors and stifled their voices, please join me in a moment of quiet reflection. After the moment of reflection, our singers will break the silence with a song emblematic of our university. After Shenandoah ends, and you walk back out onto the W&L campus, I hope that you will do everything in your power to speak up for survivors and help create a stronger, more loving world.
Thank you all.
Published with the permission of Ryan Scott.