Michelle Marchante/News Director
The different ramifications surrounding sexual harassment, sexual assault and its portrayal in the media was discussed during Student Media’s first forum of the semester, “Sexual Assault on Campus.”
Hosted on Thursday, Jan. 25, the forum was moderated by Raquel Perez, instructor of Communications. The panel was comprised of Sharon “Sherry” Aaron, director of FIU’s Victim Empowerment Program; Victoria Burns, assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies; Dr. Antonio “Tony” Delgado, interim dean of students; Fred Blevens, a professor from the School of Communication + Journalism; and Shirlyon McWhorter, Title IX coordinator and director of Equal Opportunity Programs.
Because of the topics sensitivity, Victim Empowerment Interim Asst. Director Lisa Simpson and Victim Advocate Counselors Jeanine Wooden, Cherise Tucker and Jennifer “Jenny” Lopez were present, along with a team of peer educators.
The forum opened with panelists reading and responding to a post-it from the “Wall of Awareness.” The Wall of Awareness was an interactive pre-forum event where students were given the opportunity to write their anonymous response as to why they believed it was important to discuss sexual assault. Some responses to the question included: “It’s the awful reality of many. #EndIt,” “Too many people think it’s acceptable,” and “Because 1 in 4 is 1 way too many.”
The floor then opened for discussion with a video of the 2004 Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake Super Bowl Halftime performance, where Timberlake ripped Jackson’s top open, and the different response each performer had afterwards.
As part of the forum’s interactive feature, students were given the opportunity to voice their own analysis of the situation, which ranged from if the incident was planned, how society responded to the scandal, and how it impacted each singer’s career.
Whether the action of Timberlake was planned or not, the performance, according to Burns, is an example of the term rape culture, as Timberlake’s behavior was not examined, unlike Jackson who received the blame.
“I also think that’s another example of how we have this idea that we own women’s bodies,” Burns said in the forum. “That women’s bodies are public property and commodities for us to judge and hold and look at but only if they’re doing what we want them to do.”
Timberlake himself was also a different kind of victim, she said, as he felt the need to conform to society’s “role of masculinity.”
The second video to be shown during the forum was on the resignation of Lou Anna Simon, former president of Michigan State University, following the sentencing of Larry Nassar, former USA Gymnastics and university doctor, for sexually abusing more than 150 women and girls, including some Olympians. Nassar was sentenced up to 175 years in prison.
“What I can’t believe is that this man got away with assaulting 156 people and it’s not until now that somebody actually talks about it,” a student in the audience said. “It’s insane that out of 156 people, nobody said anything until now. That’s unacceptable.”
During this part of the discussion, Aaron brought up how young some of these women were when Nassar assaulted them and asked the audience to educate the future generation.
Not being believed is also a societal issue, according to Aaron, and is something that needs to be fixed.
“It occurs as children, it occurs to women, it occurs across all spans and we also have to understand that boys are at risk, as much or as more statistically, when they are young for sexual abuse…and as a society we have not come to grip with the issue of sexual assault…” said Aaron.
And besides having discussions on sexual misconduct, one of the ways to change this societal issue, according to Burns, is to believe those who say they have been sexually assaulted and to teach others into believing those who speak out because only two to eight percent are false accusations.
The idea that everyone knows someone who has been a victim of sexual misconduct was thrown around throughout the forum, but this isn’t why you should care about stopping sexual assault, according to Delgado. You should care, he said, because even if you or a loved one has not been a victim, it still matters.
“On a human level there is an ethical and moral issue about treating someone equal with dignity and respect for being a human being not because they have these values ascribed to them that makes them matter in your life,” said Delgado.
Weighing in on the situation surrounding Simons resignation, Blevens received applause after suggesting that the metrics used by state governments to determine if they should cut funding for a university should be changed from looking at graduation rates, for example, to how universities handle sexual misconduct cases because “the art of the cover up is sometimes bigger than the crime.”
The last video played at the forum focused on the pay inequality between Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams for reshooting scenes in “All the Money in the World,” following the director’s decision to reshoot all of Kevin Spacey’s scenes, after sexual misconduct allegations were made against Spacey.
Once the forum ended, an optional Q&A session with refreshments was held outside in the SIPA Courtyard.
You can watch the recorded forum here.