How Do We CHANGE Rape Culture on College Campuses?

Carly PuchCarly Puch is a recent graduate of Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. With a Bachelors degree in sociology and women’s studies Carly’s interests are in gender, masculinity studies, and all things feminist. Carly developed an increasing interest in social media and women and work working as an intern at the Minnesota Women’s Consortium. To see more of Carly’s work check out her blog, “Carly Puch: Life Through a Feminist Lens”.

Follow her on Twitter: @carlypuch


I recently graduated from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN. My last year at Augsburg I, along with some other amazing women, started a group on campus called Augsburg Against Gender Violence. Our goal was to address what we thought was lacking on campus when it comes to education, information, and resources regarding gender violence and sexual assault. Augsburg College has been a leader on many hard issues, but it does not lead in the conversation concerning sexual assault. So our first step was to brainstorm.

Where to start? The task seemed more and more daunting. At our intimate meetings (we were lucky to have five people), we would throw out some truly incredible ideas. But we always ended on that ok where to start kind of vibe.

Should we call for more professor sensitivity training? Should we check if we are a Green Dot campus? Should we try and contact our public safety department? Should we target students and plan an on-campus activity? Basically were we thinking micro or macro? Both? In-between? I started to realize we took on a lot. It felt out of reach to make change.

Some of these options we attempted to pursue, and some we even accomplished. We attempted to contact the department of public safety, but our voices remained small. However, we managed to have Carlos Andrés Gómez speak at our school. Gómez is an award winning poet, actor and writer that discusses the connection between toxic masculinity, violence against women, and overall all how we fail to allow men to become fully developed emotional human beings. It was a lovely event.

As I reflect I thought that maybe we were asking the wrong questions. But really we weren’t asking enough.

After all, truly all of the above should be addressed: professors, students, faculty, staff, orientation leaders, and the public safety department. We should think about micro and we should think about macro. We need both. We need it all.

But it is time to admit that addressing sexual assault and rape against women after it happens is not enough. I do not mean to dismiss the many amazingly hardworking people that do this type of advocacy because it hard and under-appreciated work. But we need the before so we can stop relying on the after.

Statistics get thrown around all the time: 1 in 4 college women will be sexually assaulted. But I ask you to truly think about that. Now yes, that woman could be your daughter, mother, sister, or friend.

I am sick of that argument. We should care because they are people. End of story.

Building a Movement

There have been many steps in the right direction this year for addressing sexual assault on college campuses. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault paired with the 1 is 2 many campaign to release a PSA encouraging men to be a part of the solution in ending sexual assault.

The White House then released a list of schools that have not properly responded to sexual assault complaints. Campaigns like Know Your IX, which work to educate college students to know their rights under Title IX, are gaining national attention.


But with every step forward there have been reminders as to why dealing with the after is not enough.

The most poignant example surely is the recent tragedy at University of California, Santa Barbara. The shooter, Elliot Rodger, had connections to Men’s Rights Activist and Pick Up Artist groups, and shared with the world about his hate for women via YouTube.

This spring a female student at Harvard wrote a letter to the college paper, titled, “Dear Harvard: You Win.” The letter outlined how Harvard completely failed to do anything when she came forward and named her rapist.

A young man at Duke is actually suing the college because he was expelled after being charged with rape.

These incidents remind us that the problem is deeply rooted. We have been socialized to embrace rape culture. I say we because I am NOT exempt from it. I too fall prey to the effects of this system.

Nationally we have arrived at a point that Augsburg Against Gender Violence did, the now what? stage. What can we do with this information? More specifically how can we change the culture that allows and condones rape on college campuses?

Luckily there are people, groups, and organizations working on this effort all over the country. But they tend to be based at one school or one geographic location.

We need overall C.H.A.N.G.E.

Courtesy of DumbSainthood

Courtesy of DumbSainthood

We need to not only focus on resources but also our mindset. This is my list to change our mindset:


We need to start talking more. I imagine many students, like myself, do not realize the connections their college has. Augsburg College is partnered with the University of Minnesota’s sexual assault center. I like to consider myself someone who is somewhat informed about our campuses resources, especially ones of this nature, and I had no idea until my senior year. In turn, we need to talk and share resources!

What does this look like?

Bringing up issues of sexism, misogyny, and rape culture in class discussions can   be an effective way to engage students in the topic. Asking your friend or classmate to stop using the word rape inappropriately (i.e. that test just raped me) can be a good time to start a conversation about the issue. Asking your professor to put trigger warnings on a syllabus to inform students when there will be moments that could make survivors uncomfortable can be a teaching moment about trigger warnings.

An important part of chatting is knowing what you are chatting about. People who are not familiar with the issue often have a hard time connecting to someone who has no facts or information. Organizations like One in Four USA and Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) are good places to start in looking for information regarding the problem.


We have to be honest with ourselves and with each other. Rape culture exists. Sexual assault and rape happen on college campuses everyday. Yes there is something we can do.

What does this look like?

This one is particularly hard for many of us, myself included. Pushing people in classrooms, meetings, and friendly conversations to admit our own personal contribution is hard. How we contribute to rape culture, how we foster it and how we can stop: all of these must be addressed openly and honestly. Be honest, does that music you listen to encourage violence against women? Does that movie show women as nothing but commodities? I want to stress that this does not mean pushing   people to share personal experiences, but it does mean having more honest conversations about how we all can contribute to rape culture.

Ask Who is Not Included

Think of those who normally are excluded in this conversation and build relationships that can bring them in.

What does this look like?

Often times the discussion of sexual assault is focused on women, and for good reason as statistics show the alarmingly high rates. But many men and transgender people     experience daily threat of this violence as well. Bring them in to the conversation.

As many feminist movements have been constructed, the fight against sexual assault can sometimes become a Whitewashed issue. Within the issues of sexual violence the issues of White women are often focused on while excluding the experiences of people of Color. The White woman’s issue is treated as the universal, acting as a measure for other populations. Often times a statistic regarding sexual violence is only talking about a specific population, not alluding to differences.

Remember that sexual assault affects all populations of people differently, depending on intersections of geographic location, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, ability/disability, citizenship status, body size, and more.

Name It for What It Is

So many times people have trouble admitting what sexual         assault is, using excuses and disclaimers, not wanting to admit that our nation or our community is really plagued by these realities. Being honest about the nature and scope of the problem comes first but naming it for what it really is comes next.

What does this look like?

When a sexual assault occurs that gets national attention, many news outlets and online forums feature panelists and writers that ask questions such as, what was she wearing? Why was she out so late? Was she drinking?  These questions try and excuse or divert attention from the problem, attempting to push the idea that what happen would not happen if it weren’t for what the woman did to bring on violence.

This type of blame game is constant push back for moving forward. Try to connect with people who ask these questions, pressing them on why those details determine whether a person wanted to have sex or not. Discuss with people how these are instances of sexual violence, period. Language is an important tool in this fight, and in my experience using it appropriately can be an effective way to educate people.

Get Help

Do not be afraid to use models that are currently in place at other schools or that other organizations are using.

What does this look like?

There are numerous models and tools that can be excellent resources to use for all types of circumstances. Classroom examples, great working college groups, and literature are all there to help guide the process. Remember that your project, group, or discussion doesn’t have to be the first of it’s kind.

On a national level, The Centers for    Disease Control and Prevention has a “Sexual Violence Prevention: Beginning the   Dialogue” that discusses the prevention of sexual violence from a public health perspective. The model helps to break down the different levels of factors that contribute to the rape culture that fosters an environment where sexual violence is normal.

At a college level, Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER) has models available for students to use in order to challenge college campuses to have up to date policies    regarding sexual violence. Groups like Know Your IX are a great place to start. The Know Your IX campaign aims to inform students of their rights, allowing college   students to understand where they can make change and what their college campuses should be doing. To better understand trigger warnings, read Jessica Valenti’s piece that summarizes the latest discussion surrounding them. Finally, Jamie Utt offers some great resources for addressing sexual violence on college campuses.

Engage at all levels

What does this look like?

This point ties them all together and was touched on in previous points. Even on a campus that seemed small, Augsburg had an abundance of student groups. Host a meeting to talk about this issue with as many groups as will come. An important aspect to engaging at all levels is making sure that all levels are included. Like I alluded to before, the group I was involved with attempted to make connections with the department of public safety. Looking back making more of an effort to involve our health counseling center, the school President, and professors would have been a good strategy. Another way to engage at all levels is to be conscious of the events or conversations you have. Perhaps have some off campus and some on campus. Or host an event that shows a documentary and an event that host a panel. A variety of events is a good way to ensure that a variety of people can and will become involved.


Depending on who you are, these each may look different.

If you are a school administrator, focusing on how to engage at all levels is important.

If you are a student who is just starting to learn about these complex issues, simply chatting may be a good avenue.

If you are thinking of starting a group on a college campus, getting help or asking who isn’t included may be perfect areas to focus on.

If you are a professor, being honest and admitting that regardless of what area you teach in you can help to eliminate rape culture is of vital importance.

If you are a media correspondent or a newspaper editor, naming it for it is will help to guide the conversation in the right direction. Participation at all levels is key.

I want to use this model to push beyond shelters and hotlines, though these are of vital importance in serving survivors. College students need to hear the facts and the resources available, but they need more. We all need more. We need to use CHANGE to discuss rape culture and sexism. We need CHANGE at a national level, at a state level, college level, and interpersonal level.

Keep pushing forward and strive for CHANGE.


3 thoughts on “How Do We CHANGE Rape Culture on College Campuses?

  1. Reblogged this on CARLY PUCH and commented:
    I originally wrote this piece for the incredible Change From Within blog. Thought I would share it here!

  2. One of my biggest concerns is the education process and I am talking specifically about reaching adults. Part of this may include letting them know about victim empathy and the consequences of abuse. Too long we have legislated to past abuse but need to focus more on the mental health of the victims and the perpetrator. I for one was abused by my own father and what seems to be innocuous to the perpetrator can be devastating to the victim. I suffer from an anxiety disorder such as to make me jumpy. As a man it is hard to qualify this remark without the stigmas. The same stigmas that force gays into the closets as well as cross-dressers. Rather than worry solely about legislating punishment, how about humanizing both? That Castro guy has no sympathy however though I can only imagine what motivated him.

    To say that anyone deserves abuse of any kind is to me, immoral. The impact of self esteem can be paralyzing and constantly vigilant. I have been through this for 50 years. I just hope we can prevent this cancer from spreading and it begins with all of us, by the very least the objectification of the other sex. The answers are not silver bullets. Innocence cannot be reinstated but we can be sensitive to the impact of violence.

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