To end rape culture on college campuses, all students must take part in open and honest dialogues about their experiences, privileges and positions within the system.
Yet when some voices in the conversation are shouting over others, they stymie both the conversation and the progress.
On campus last week, BAMN protested UC Berkeley’s handling of an alleged sexual assault. Along with the survivor, a member of BAMN, the group marched outside residence halls, through classrooms and on Sproul Plaza with posters and signs that proclaimed, “Keep rapist … off campus,” “Mobilize to get rapists off UCB campus” and “Stop rape and sexual assault at UC Berkeley by any means necessary.”
But these are not the means to the desired end.
These protest tactics are too antagonistic to foster the discussion that needs to be had. While seeking to direct attention to the cause, they ultimately detract from the real intentions behind the protests. The aggressive messaging of the protest was considered by many to be “triggering” for forcing reminders of past trauma onto unsuspecting students and community members. The last people the protests should have alienated were sexual assault survivors — those who thoroughly understand the cause and the need for it.
These BAMN protests reflect a problematic trend in UC Berkeley activism, wherein loud, brazen voices overshadow those that would otherwise have wanted to enter into the conversation. The absolutist, extremist rhetoric of such protests (the fallacious “if you’re not with us, you’re against us”) ignores the gray area within social issues and the individual differences in people’s backgrounds. Some people and potential supporters are unaware of the nuances of social justice matters or are not as comfortable with such public displays of personal views. Rather than welcoming new but possibly inexperienced voices into important conversations, some activists push general members of UC Berkeley’s population out of the discourse.
The overly aggressive methods also unintentionally subvert students’ support of the message. When students see posters with a face, a name and the accusation “RAPIST” over it, they might question the fairness of presenting a case this way. The anti-sexual assault movement is hurt when outsiders doubt the activists.
Alleged rapists face justice through due process of UC Berkeley adjudication and the criminal justice system. But by preemptively taking this case to the public sphere, BAMN is acting as though it is above the law.
BAMN and all people and organizations have the right to organize movements and protests — a right they should exercise. But before resorting to such aggressive tactics, protesters should figure out more effective tactics to represent their message and galvanize support.
Like all efforts to effect change, the mission of ending rape culture will make the society so accustomed to it uncomfortable. But those working toward the change — sexual assault survivors and core supporters of the anti-sexual assault movement — should not feel cut off from their own cause.