The False Promise of Respectful Difference

This piece was guest written by Biz Berthy ’17

CW: This piece contains descriptions of sexual assault

The other week I was reading through a series of court cases from 17th century Virginia. My comps topic, very broadly speaking, is on gender and race in early American society. As a history major, and one who is interested in early America in particular, you get used to reading bizarre descriptions, to seeing strange illustrations, and so on. Most of the times we laugh at their absurdity, because we cannot fathom the idea of finding even the faintest trace of the same logic in our society, in our own communities, today. That is what history is: a narrative we tell ourselves over and over and over until it is finally engrained in our minds and we no longer have to even practice the act of storytelling; it is given. Yet, as I read through these 17th century documents, I found a case that I could not laugh at, not only because of the atrocious nature of the crime, but also because I saw an undeniable similarity between the way the case was handled then and the way that rape cases are handled today, four centuries later.

In 1689, a young Eliza Farrell and her husband pressed charges against Thomas Seawell for raping Eliza. According to Eliza, Thomas followed her home, sexually assaulted her with an ox horn and a lit candle, and then publicly shamed her by singing her pubic hair and shoving it in her husband’s face. Instead of Thomas facing swift and immediate punishment, the court chose to highlight the fact that Eliza was “swinishly drunk,” and unaccompanied by a man. Given that, they settled on Thomas simply paying a fine to Eliza’s husband, Brian, for “damaging” his property, and therefore, his honor.

Reading this, I was suddenly catapulted to this summer, in the year 2016, when I first read about the Brock Turner case- a rape seemingly so clearly abhorrent, so clearly violent, that I was foolish enough to believe that there would be severe consequences for his actions. And I was exactly that: foolish. Brock Turner received a sentence of six months in county jail, and was released after only three.

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Trending Topic: #respectfuldifference at Ripon College

via Ripon.edu

Although Kenyon has started to move on from #respectfuldifference, another college has hopped on the train. Ripon College, a small (and actually small, guys, Wikipedia says they only have 930 students) liberal arts college located a couple of hours north of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was introduced to the #respectfuldifference campaign through David Scott, the Pieper chair of servant leadership. Continue reading

Making a #RespectfulDifference: Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity to Host Men’s Discussion

"As members of Phi Kappa Tau, we support #respectfuldifference because we have an obligation to ensure and support meaningful discussion and understanding. We also believe that we must build an inclusive community by acting and speaking out against hurtful dialogue and behavior." (via Facebook)

“As members of Phi Kappa Tau, we support #respectfuldifference because we have an obligation to ensure and support meaningful discussion and understanding. We also believe that we must build an inclusive community by acting and speaking out against hurtful dialogue and behavior.” (via Facebook)

Since their official colonization at Kenyon last year, the brothers of Phi Kappa Tau have been working hard to make a positive difference both on and off campus. The fraternity’s national website states that their mission as an organization is “to be recognized as a leadership organization that binds men together and challenges them to improve their campuses and the world.” Last year, this goal manifested in the form of thousands of dollars raised for Relay for Life and many volunteer hours put towards helping charities in the greater Gambier area. Recently, the brothers have sought to extend this mission to include taking action to address the controversy surrounding Take Back the Night.

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