"You Too?": The Limitations of the #MeToo Movement in College Campus Activism
By Maggie Kurnyta
Coined as a term of solidarity and bravery, the phrase “Me Too” was first used by Tarana Burke in 2006. Since then, it has been co opted to account for the diverse lived experiences of all survivors to break the silence and stigma around sexual assault and harassment. Instead of succumbing to the unfortunate realities of white and/or male privilege, survivors candidly confronted their abusers, and media moguls, such as Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, were slowly scolded by the American public.
Questions about the #MeToo movement’s motivations abound, many of which correlate to the ideological isolation of it; for the most part, only Hollywood has been shaken by the powerful voices of many survivors, yet very little has been done to account for these violent actions. Should these media titans be legally reprimanded for their actions, or are the deaths of their reputations enough? How can survivors feel comfort in speaking up about their traumatic experiences if they know that their oppressors will not be punished in a court of law? Does the court of public opinion accurately account for the varied, intersectional experiences of survivors?
As a recently graduated college student, the #MeToo movement’s beginnings were both memorable and transformative. Yet, these tools and resources, which allowed for many women and men in Hollywood to face their abusers by telling their stories, are not always as simple to find on college campuses. College-age students face high risks of sexual violence, and according to a poll conducted by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation, 20% of female college students admit to being harassed and/or sexually assaulted. For LGBTQIA+ students, students with disabilities, and students of color, the statistics gradually worsen.
While the diverse voices in the #MeToo movement spoke truth to power, this truth is all too often denied for college students. Reporting tactics and penal methods vary by schools, but as statistics show, administrative officials are failing their students in many ways. Many college institutions provide some kind of informational session, most commonly in freshman year, about sexual assault prevention. Freshman year is an excellent starting point for this kind of discussion, but the conversation (and the practical education) ends there.
There is no simple solution to addressing the rampant plague of campus sexual assault. Inherently a power-based, violent offense, assault is predicated on a sociological belief that sex is power. We can blame toxic video games or dehumanizing music videos, but simply pointing a finger is not enough. Students must be informed about the resources at their disposal, specifically which resources are confidential or non-confidential. They must feel confident that academic disciplinary councils made up of their fellow peers and legal pathways will provide just punishment for their abusers if they do decide to speak up.
For survivors who choose not to vocalize their own experiences, your voice is a tool that can be used if or when you choose to speak. Campus programs should be comprehensive and intersectional, and they must be tailored to particular audiences. Bystander intervention training should be accessible to all students, and proper language should always be used when speaking with survivors.
The Trump administration’s reversal of Obama-era Title IX policies was a pivotal blow to campus activism, and the likelihood of survivors speaking about their experiences severely dwindled. On my own campus, green dots symbolized safety and solidarity, and emergency buttons were strategically positioned to allow for efficiency and protection. Our Title IX office was a safe space for conversation and de-stigmatization.
College policies are put into place to defend students’ rights, but they can also limit and silence the people they are made to protect. There is no singular experience of harassment or assault, but it is an experience shared by too many. Prevention is essential, but college institutions do not always give their students the proper resources and tools to speak about assault or talk to survivors. The foundational principles of power-based personal violence are grounded in identity and privilege, and we must first peel apart these difficult layers to even have a chance at discussing the #MeToo movement on a college campus through an intersectional lens.