Administration Don't Got This

Unless you don’t check your email (which you may not considering how many emails the average student gets per day), you know that Augustana’s new online bystander intervention program is called “U Got This”. See “U” is like “you” but in a way us millennials can understand. U Got This is meant to address interpersonal violence and give us the “tools to help challenge disrespectful and abusive behavior” according to the email.
U Got This starts with a disembodied voice introducing himself as John. John tells us that we are going to be discussing violence and then jokingly assures us that yes, this is how he “introduces [himself] at parties” (har har). This is where the problems start. Although a guide like John may appeal more to male students, beginning a program about sexual assault, which happens to women at a statistically higher rate, feels patronizing. “It was very uncomfortable to have this male telling me about how women are mistreated, objectified, and demeaned in our culture. I’m like “thanks John I know”” says Annie Mitchell, a senior at Augustana.
U Got This is clearly not a program created with the entire Augustana community in mind. It operates off the assumption that violence, stalking, sexual harassment, and rape are things that you have not experienced before. This implies that U Got This was created with the typical straight, cis, white male student in mind. “It’s really clearly written to educate straight white men who have only been perpetrators of rape culture, homophobia, racism, and other toxic behaviors, not victims of it” says Riley Kenning. They continue, saying that U Got This treats these topics as things “you could only have been a witness or bystander to, not something you’ve experienced yourself.” The program functions off of the idea that the user has never been the victim of these crimes, an odd assumption to make of a campus with so many femme-aligned students on it. “This is a really awful assumption, and at several points throughout U Got This, it basically says “these things are bad! But they haven’t happened to you.”” says fellow student Audrey johnson.
Sophomore Emma Nordmeyer calls U Got This “hokey”, going on to say that it reminds her of a “computer CD rom game”, however the course goes beyond bad jokes and a poor format. U Got This clings so hard to the idea that it is the “cool parent” that the forcibly positive tone of it creates a caricature of our experiences. At one point John points out the benefits of speaking out against the normalization of bigoted behavior and we are shown a photo of a man’s face getting cartoon bras and panties thrown at it. So if you don’t care about offensive behavior, now you should, because it can get you laid. This kind of implicit message, once again, panders to the students on campus who are more likely to be perpetrators than victims as well as uses sex as an incentive to just be a decent human being. I personally am not interested in praising people who abide by a basic moral code.
In the beginning of the program John ensures that our campus understands that “toxic speech leads to toxic behavior” when just several weeks ago, the OSL Comedy Club brought a comedian to campus by the name of K-Von who made a “joke” about having to sign a waiver to not have sex with any of the female students before being allowed to perform at Augie. According to seniors Sara Baugh and Alyssa Frohling, he then commented that he would be parking a U-Haul just off campus in order to get around the hypothetical waiver. It seems like Augie itself has a bit to learn about toxic speech and toxic behavior, and a lot to learn about hypocrisy. “It’s upsetting when they keep bringing up Augustana’s policies on sexual misconduct and violence when in reality nothing is ever done about the cases and violent people remain are in our classes and on our campus.” continues Annie Mitchell.
Often bystander intervention is a privilege. If a woman wants to call out, say a man who catcalled her, she risks putting herself in harm’s way. If you’re closeted in order to keep yourself safe, rather it be around your family or your job, calling out a homophobic statement may jeopardize that safety. If you have the opportunity to help someone in a potentially dangerous situation or even speak up against bigoted statements, by all means do so, but people who are members of oppressed communities often put themselves in danger by doing this. Education like U Got This tends to fixate on what other people in the room can be doing, which is helpful, but it should be paired with with education on consent and what your administration can do. As college students, we are still growing, and still vulnerable, we can’t expected to be our sole protectors. “The focus on bystander intervention is off-putting, because it feels like the blame is getting shifted to the friend’s of the victims, rather than on the perpetrators themselves, and totally absolving the administration of responsibility.” states Audrey Johnson. If the administration is doing its job then the victim and their friends won’t be left with the responsibility to make sure the crime isn’t committed again.
Although U Got This does manage to address important topics such as why the victim is never at fault and how a bystander can get involved in a potentially dangerous situation, it fails to address that perhaps we should instead be teaching rapists to just not rape in the first place rather than putting pressure on those indirectly a part of the situation. Overall U Got This seems to trivialize serious topics and feels patronizing to the many of us who have experienced sexual assault first hand. The many attempts to keep a light, bubbly atmosphere throughout the program were most likely done so as to not appear as a scare tactic, but it just felt demeaning. The more U Got This tried to be “accessible”, the more it came off as making light of serious topics. Emma Nordmeyer, ever quick with quips, calls it “kindergarten level” information about sexual assault prevention. U Got This provides an incredibly over simplified explanation of incredibly sensitive, and nuanced topics. More than once John referred to sexual assault or rape as “bad behavior” or “people hurting other people” as well as “bad messaging” in place of a term like “rape culture”, this kind of dumbing down is an insult to the intelligence of Augie students and an insult to the people who live with rape culture everyday. U Got This also fails to acknowledge how the perpetuation of rape culture directly leads to rapists believing that they are not doing anything wrong. I implore Augie administration to find a more direct, more nuanced, and more informational way of dealing with violence on campus. By now it has been made abundantly clear that an online course is simply not enough to educate the more privileged students on campus or decrease violence on campus. Although it’s imperative that we as a community protect each other, if the administration’s best prevention method is U Got This, we’re just delaying another assault or another rape. Audrey Johnson encourages Augie to be “transparent in their process of reporting and punishing these crimes. Because these are crimes, not just “bad behavior” as U Got This puts it”. I am not convinced that U Got This will assist in dealing with sexual assault or rape on campus. And if “John” is Augie’s best weapon of defense, then they are failing student victims. Period.