A Discussion With The CGE

Trigger warning: This posts contains discussion of rape and sexual assault.

Every year, after applications have been accepted and programs researched, students planning to study abroad go through the pre-departure process with the Center for Global Engagement. During this time, the CGE distributes a packet written by students for students that covers everything from packing to sexuality abroad. A few weeks ago, this packet caused some controversy among students. After the wrong packet was distributed and then corrected, I sat down with the CGE’s Marne Ausec, Lisa Swaim, and Jenny Colmenero ‘13 to discuss not only the controversies within the packet, but the concept of culture and identity abroad.

The smaller issues within the packet contained some questionably sexist material that has since been rearranged and reworded to be more gender neutral, however, the uncertainties surrounding sexuality abroad still remain.

Coming from Kenyon, we have been raised through Beer and Sex and the advice of the SMAs. Everything we have been told is definitive: it is never the victim’s fault. This then creates dissonance when, going abroad, we are advised to follow cultural norms: not to walk alone if local residents tell us it is unsafe at particular times, in particular areas, or contexts; to dress conservatively and to visibly blend in as much as possible with local residents; and to abstain from illegal drugs or overindulging with alcohol. Where do we draw the line between victim-blaming and street smarts?

The CGE’s intent is to encourage students to think of the cultural context they are in, and be aware of possible red flags. At Kenyon, hookup culture is very unspoken, and couples can go for months without defining the relationship or having any idea where it’s going. It is important to remember that you are entering into a country with different cultural norms and traditions, and what we consider casual in America may have entirely different implications abroad.

This discussion of norms at Kenyon vs. norms abroad brought us to the bigger idea of identity. How one identifies at Kenyon changes how they act abroad. When I brought up that Kenyon is a place where I feel comfortable walking alone down Middle Path at 2AM because the worst thing I’ll run into is a feral cat, Colmenero commented that she had heard almost the exact opposite from women of color at Kenyon.

This is one of the major problems with Kenyon. We assume that because we go to this perfect school on a hilltop that everyone in this small community is the same. Even within Kenyon, there are so many different cultures and backgrounds, and it’s a part of what makes us great.

It is important, no matter where you come from, to step outside of yourself and enter your abroad experience as an informed observer. Going abroad through Kenyon is a privilege and you have to be aware of this power.

What we determined from this discussion is that the CGE’s core message will never change — culture matters — but that how they communicate these things will continually be reshaped and updated. They are considering turning this pre-departure process into a more community-based experience, having talks led by student groups and professors to turn abroad experiences not into a lecture but a dialogue. Everyone’s voice is important, and is ultimately what will make your abroad experience meaningful.

21 responses

  1. Oy va voy. Leave it to Kenyon’s PC crowd to muddle what should be a cut-and-dry issue over the safety of women travelling abroad. This silly meme where everything that is said for a woman must be said for a man isn’t just tiring it’s also dangerous and disconnected from reality. The likelihood of women being raped is far higher than a man being raped. In conservative cultures there are certain precautions one should be aware of in order to avoid sexual/physical/verbal assault. Ignoring these methods of protection out of some misguided notion of gender equality is self-defeating.

    Do not get me twisted. This IS NOT victim-blaming. Rape is rape. No matter what. And yet there are men in the world who will prey on women. As one of the quotes below says, “these people are opportunists.” Denying cretins the opportunity with whatever ways one can seems to be rational, no?

    These are a few important quotes from a British tourist who was very nearly gang-raped in India a few weeks ago. She writes:

    “I was putting photos up of my journey so I wasn’t unaccounted for. I dressed appropriately. I stayed in my room at night if I was on my own, I didn’t walk around at night in the dark by myself.

    “The only thing I could have done differently was not let him know that I was going to get an early train. These people are opportunists. If they see an opportunity they are going to take it.”

    “It’s a fascinating country. What happened to me doesn’t represent India. It represents a problem in India. I would go back, but I wouldn’t go back on my own, I’d go back in a group.”

    For her, even all the precautions she took did not keep her safe. Such a story should be a reality-check. The tips CGE offer helpful but not foolproof.

    • Exactly this. I don’t understand why tips to avoid sexual violence are labelled as “blaming the victim”. You can tell people not to go out at night alone in shady neighborhoods, but this isn’t considered blaming the mugging victim or the murder victim; but as soon as you give women suggestions on how to stay safe, you’re “blaming the rape victim.”

      Oh, right. The solution to rape is “teach men not to rape”. Right. Because “teaching people not to murder” and “teaching people not to steal” works so well.

      • Name, you need to use your critical thinking skills. The reason the concept of teaching men not to rape is different than teaching them ont to steal, murder, etc is that men (and everyone else, really) are constantly receiving a barrage of cultural messages that women are sex objects, there for entertainment and pleasure purposes. There are so many examples of this, but since I know people are probably going to argue with me, I’ll list a few:
        – women’s magazine’s (see Cosmo) constantly writing article after article on how to please your man, what men want, what men really think
        – commercials suggesting that if you buy a certain car you’ll automatically get a hot woman
        – commercials suggesting that if you use certain cologne, women will literally flock to them
        – the way we talk about women (not everyone obviously, calm down, but). it’s very common to hear women being rated on a scale of 1-10, having certain body parts discussed, and valued or devalued based mainly on how they look or dress or what kind of sexual activity they engage in

        ANYWAY, all of these messages, in combination with the fact that our hookup culture encourages drunken encounters where sex or certain sexual activity is often expected, and in combination with cultural messages about how men are the sexual aggressors by nature, encourage rape. They encourage men to see women as objects, to feel they deserve a woman, and to feel that it is natural for them to aggressively pursue sex when they want it. teaching men to rape doesn’t mean just saying “hey guys, don’t rape anyone!” because we do say that, and clearly it’s not working. Teaching men not to rape involves teaching them to critically evaluate these cultural messages, see women as people, know what is and is not consent, and know that women also have sexual desires and agency.

        Finally, suggestions for how to stay safe do not prevent rape very well. Think about it. If one woman avoids walking down that proverbial dark alley where a rapist is waiting, another will. All you’re teaching women with these suggestions is how to make sure he rapes the other girl. And that’s not rape prevention. Most rapes are acquaintance rapes, so really the only thing women can do to protect themselves is not to interact with any men ever. And clearly that’s not going to work.

      • “All you’re teaching women with these suggestions is how to make sure he rapes the other girl.”

        My god this has to be one of the most ignorant statements I have ever read. Are you kidding me? Yikes, yikes and yikes.

      • Explain how that’s ignorant? Strategies that involve teaching women not to walk down dark alleys, not to get drunk, etc, work under the assumption that some men are just bad people waiting around to find someone to prey on. So you’re teaching women “make sure that’s not you.” Unless you think that there will someday be absolutely no women in these risky situations (bars, clubs, streets, bad neighborhoods, etc), you are assuming that someone will be getting raped. Also, as I mentioned earlier, this is not how most rapes occur, so it’s not very helpful advice anyway.

      • It’s ignorant because you’re blaming a woman for protecting herself. You said by teaching women certain strategies to avoid harassment you ensure that a man will rape another woman.

        “All you’re teaching women with these suggestions is how to make sure he rapes the other girl.”

        So to follow certain protective suggestions a woman enables a rapist to rape another woman? Do you see how ironically misogynist that is. Your logic is so backwards and offensive that if you can’t see the ignorance in it, you’re too far gone.

        We’re talking about sexual harassment in foreign countries. Western women, by engaging in certain actions, are more likely to incur various forms of assault from men in conservative cultures. That’s a fact. Ignore it at your own peril.

        Recent gang-rapes in India show just how important it is for a woman to be vigilant and be aware of how her actions are being construed by the culture at large. As one tourist said, “these people are opportunists.” Within reason, don’t give villainous men opportunities to take advantage of you. The CGE attempted to do this.

        And relax, I’m not making any normative statements here. I’m simply trying to explain some of the more ugly realities of being a western women in deeply conservative non-western cultures.

      • I guess I can see how you might have thought that I was blaming women, but I was actually blaming the strategies themselves. Women should do whatever the hell they want to feel safe and protected and that’s perfectly fine. In fact, spreading these methods as the best way to avoid rape is actually what results in victim blaming, because when women DON’T follow the guidelines (which are impossible to follow at all times), it’s way too easy to say that they should have known better, and that if only they had followed the rules it wouldn’t have happened (e.g. blaming women). You’ll notice that I didn’t say “when women try to avoid rape in certain ways they’re leaving other women vulnerable to rape,” which would have actually been blaming women.

        Also like I said earlier, my comments were in response to what Name said, so the second half of your comment doesn’t really apply.

      • Ugh. Three points.

        1) You’re judging the strategies based on how some misogynists might view women if the strategies are not followed. Doesn’t it make more sense to judge the strategies on whether they protect women?

        I guess I’m just a little shocked at the semantic loops you are willing to run through to criticize a set of guidelines that are practical methods of safety.

        2) “Women should do whatever the hell they want to feel safe and protected and that’s perfectly fine.”

        “In fact, spreading these methods as the best way to avoid rape is actually what results in victim blaming,”

        Do you see the hypocrisy here?

        3) You’ve created a mysoginist straw-man. No one says these suggestions should be followed at all times. Rather, they are general attempts to help women protect themselves. And if you look at what’s being going on in the news (Tahrir, India, etc) you’d realize these suggestions, while not perfect, are a damn good start.

      • I think you’re missing Eggplant’s point that giving advice to potential rape victims is kind of like treating the symptoms without doing anything about the cause. Giving advice to potential victims will help patch things up on an individual basis, but if this is a systemic problem then it seems like something needs to be changed on the whole.

      • I don’t think it’s within CGE’s charge to offer a systematic plan on how to stop the epidemic of sexual violence across the world. Protecting Kenyon students to the best of their abilities is.

    • “Systemic problem” meaning there is a problem within the system of our cultural discourse that encourages rape to happen more frequently than it would if all rapists were instances of mental disability or instability. I am not suggesting that the CGE offer a solution to the epidemic of sexual violence across the world; I think they’ve done the best they can to offer small preventative measures on an individual basis. The issues Eggplant and yourself seem to be referring to (and the catchphrases that ‘name’ employed) are much larger than this small, only partially representative instance. Actually, Eggplant said that her comment was directed at ‘name’s attitude about ‘victim blaming’ and ‘teaching men not to rape,’ not at the CGE’s pamphlet. So if you’re referring to the context of the entire United States, there is clearly something that needs to be changed in our methods of discussing and preventing rape, because ‘preventative advice’ only treats the symptoms of a larger problem. If you’re referring to this specific pamphlet, I think the issues most people had were about the juxtaposition of this important information with trivial and specifically “female” tips (ex. don’t pack too many shoes), and that is not what Eggplant was arguing about in the first place.

  2. As an SMA and someone who cares a lot about issues of sexual misconduct, I applaud Kenyon’s sensitivity to the CGE’s controversial packet and this article. That being said, when traveling abroad, whether or not the fear is of rape or sexual assault, it is often culturally insensitive for girls to wear tank tops and booty shorts. This is not just an issue of sexism, but religious and other cultural beliefs as well. While it SUCKS that women are advised not to go places alone, let’s not harass the CGE for giving relevant and safe information to students. This is the real world we’re talking about, (places like India, Morocco, etc.) and not Kenyon, where we demand that all women must be safe everywhere no matter what they are doing.

  3. I felt like the first reaction to the CGE packet was too hormonal and unwarranted. Obviously they have a better version out now, but still the reality is that men and women face different realities when travelling abroad. Men can be targets too, but if both men and women treated everyone around the world like Kenyon, the women would unfortunately face a much more difficult time. Rape is rape, and anyone can be the victim, but don’t lash at someone who is just trying to keep you safe when your thousands of miles away.

    • ugh did you really need to add that the response was “too hormonal” and not just unwarranted? …. are you trying to start a huge shitstorm? Jesus…

    • Telling girls to learn how to squat and pee and how to NOT shave (two thing i do very well already) was offensive and not too hormonal a response at all.

      • If you want to go abroad, please do. If you don’t, then stay at Kenyon. But I am so sick of this over-privileged, self-masturbatory way of thinking about this ridiculous CGE epidemic. It’s reached a point where we are talking about it for the sake of talking about it. We’re whining about it because we always need to have something to whine about. The reality is that things are different outside of the Kenyon bubble, (i.e. not everyone may always bend over backwards in order to listen to and understand everything you necessarily have to say. And that’s life.) The CGE is trying to warn people of this, particularly women, because (WHOA shocker!) women are much more likely to be raped, assaulted, etc, especially in an unfamiliar territory and especially in a culture that they are less familiar with. This is wrong but it’s the reality, and the CGE is trying to help women with this “less familiar with other cultures” part. It’s a necessary means of preparation. Deal with it, please stop whining, and for Christ’s sake let’s move on.

      • Except squatting to pee and not shaving (the things anonymous found offensive) don’t really have to do with not getting raped? So not very relevant

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