Gender and Sexuality Column

Lansat: A freshman’s guide to social, sexual pressures at SU

Liam Sullivan | Staff Photographer

A group of students meet on the corner of Marshall Street and Walnut Place, surprised to see each other on a night out.

When it comes to partying, your first semester in college can feel like a blur of confusion: for many freshmen, the first few nights of socializing at Syracuse University are filled with the awkwardness, experimentation, and the trial and error of going out on a Tuesday.

As you find your squad and get your costumes ready to dive in to SU’s night scene, it’s important to have a strong sense of self, even when alcohol and sexual pressure are in the mix. It’s undeniable that you will feel the need to establish yourself socially and you might feel that being “down for anything” or out drinking your friends would be the way to do this. And while it’s frightful to have to start all over as a freshman, it’s much scarier to wake up one morning unaware of what happened the night before and unsure if any sexual misconduct occurred.

Don’t be afraid to say “no” and stand up for your fellow classmates

In the face of unwanted sexual pressure, it is crucial to speak up and say “no.” It’s your body and your rules, so you should not agree to have sex if you feel at all uncomfortable or hesitant about the person or circumstances. It is always OK to say “no” or to make some excuse to leave a party if you feel uncomfortable — I guarantee people won’t remember your excuse. It be may hard for freshmen to feel confident saying “no,” but you can’t let the pressure of your peers or your perceived social expectations of college interfere with your own safety and well-being.

The same rule applies for your peers. Make sure your friends don’t fall into the same trap by being candid about uncomfortable experiences and look out for others at the party, even if they are not a friend. If another someone seems to need help, offer to bring them home or find their friends.

At SU, there are many campus organizations that you can get involved in to learn more about how to effectively combat sexual pressure and dismantle rape culture. The SU chapter of the It’s On Us campaign, Peer Educators Encouraging Healthy Relationships & Sexuality (PEEHRS), Students Advancing Sexual Safety and Empowerment, (SASSE), A Men’s Issue and The Girl Code Movement all work to address these problems. Each one of these groups are all student-led and are at the forefront of campus activism about sex education, consent training and anti-sexual assault efforts.

Understand the effects of overdrinking

Survivors should never be blamed for sexual assault, but it is important to acknowledge that alcohol is an important factor as it impairs students from making rational decisions and consenting to sexual activity. Last school year, more than half of the calls for the Syracuse University Ambulance were for intoxicated freshmen — while some students pace themselves as they go out to fraternity houses or South Campus apartments, some students don’t make it out of the pregame.

Given the high rate of alcohol consumption among SU freshmen and the fact that up to 75 percent of physical and sexual assaults at colleges involve drunkenness on the victim’s or the assailant’s behalf, it’s unsurprising that the first six weeks of the fall semester have earned the reputation of the “Red Zone.” This period is the time when college women are the most vulnerable to sexual assault. So while it is understood that you are getting to know your limits in those first few nights of partying at SU, it is important to know your limits in order to stay safe.

Seek out help when you need it

In the event that you are a survivor of sexual assault, don’t recede into the darkness of your dorm room. It’s key to know your options for support on SU’s campus and to know that you are never alone. The Counseling Center at SU has Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence services that are available 24/7 — students can go to the center in person during office hours or call its staff directly. This is sort of accessibility is crucial to the center’s mission to help survivors feel comfortable and safe again.

SU Counseling Center Associate Director Susan Pasco, who is also the coordinator of SU’s Sexual and Relationship Violence Response Team, said she believes strongly in the power of healing and validating survivors as an SU staff member.

“When survivors are able to experience swift and effective responses to their disclosures or reports, they have a better chance of recovering from a trauma and participating fully in their academic, personal and social life.” Pasco said in an email.

In addition to the center’s dedication to educating the campus community about sexual assault, administrative support like this is a prime example of how colleges can combat and end rape culture by working together as faculty, staff and student body.

Girl Code Movement President Ellie Freeman is a senior inclusive early childhood and special education major who joined the group in her sophomore year of college after being sexually assaulted twice the year before. Freeman’s first assault occurred in January 2014. The perpetrator was a boy she was friends with at the time. The second assault occurred in March 2014 by a guy that she had just met that night.

“GCM is a huge support system for me because many of the girls involved have been sexually assaulted and/or know someone who has been sexually assaulted,” Freeman said in an email. “The bond created between people who have shared this experience is so unique.”

Freeman emphasized the importance of survivors not falling into a cycle of self-blame and seeking out resources after their assault.

Senior public relations major and Girl Code Movement public relations vice president Mandisa Shields, on the other hand, wants all incoming students to understand that having sex with someone who won’t or can’t say “yes” is sexual assault. “Yes means yes,” and if your partner is unable to consent: don’t ruin your life doing something you will always regret. Again, it’s important to understand the role that alcohol plays in the prevalence of sexual assault in party settings. Drinking responsibly while you have fun is the way to go.

Shields also says that students standing up for other students is a concrete way of preventing some incidents of assault. This piece of advice also goes hand-in-hand with the need to stand up and say “no” — for yourself as well as for your fellow students who aren’t in a state to make safe choices for themselves.

“This isn’t an inevitable problem. Each and every one of us can do our part in making sure this doesn’t happen,” said Shields. “Don’t be a bystander. Don’t turn a blind eye.”

Go out and have fun — just make sure you do so safely.

The first few social nights at school can be some of the best memories and stories of freshman year. Go out with your new friends on your floor and from your classes, and start life in college off right. But while you’re having the best times of your life, be sure to know when to stand up for yourself and your fellow SU partygoers and seek help when you need it.

Myelle Lansat is a junior magazine journalism major and policy studies minor. She can be reached at malansat@syr.edu.

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