‘Men on campus need to know we are their classmates, not their prey’

Meet the organizer of the ‘this is what rape culture looks like’ project

Over the weekend, an email account messaged freshmen women with a controversial poem telling them to not be “teases” and to “wear something tight” at parties.

The account – [email protected] – which would appear to be connected to off-campus organization OZ, addressed the “ladies” of the Class of 2020 with the words:

“The year is now upon us
May we have your attention please
We’re looking for the fun ones
And say f*** off to a tease

“Wednesday nights will get you going
With bankers flowing all night
Tonight is your first showing
So please wear something tight”

So in response, junior English major Amanda Silberling and a group of her friends printed off hundreds of copies of the email with the words “this is what rape culture looks like” and “we are watching”, and pasted them on the LOVE statue on campus.

We spoke to Amanda about her project, and the response she’s had so far.

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What happened last night?

A group of friends and I found out about this email that was sent to freshman girls, and we were all furious – this isn’t an isolated incident. There is a lot of predatory behavior towards women, especially new students, that goes on at college campuses around the country. As a group, we decided we were no longer going to stay silent. In a big group chat of friends, we decided to take action. We met at our friend Syra’s apartment, and about 10-15 people showed up with tape, staples, and tons of paper. We collaborated on a poster design that would be subtle and loud at the same time – the disgusting nature of the email speaks for itself. We divided up regions of campus, pin-pointed places we wanted to flyer, and we all went off in groups of two and three to make our statement. It was exhausting, cathartic, and liberating all at once. Two friends and I ran through the stairwells of the high-rise dorms at Penn, hanging up posters on every single bulletin board in the three 24-story buildings. Others taped them across a major bridge on campus, the famous Philadelphia LOVE statue, etc.

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How did reading those emails make you feel?

Things like this make me so angry and upset, but it also gets to the point where it’s not shocking anymore. We’ve seen this happen before so many times. But that’s a huge reason why we wanted to act now – we want people to think twice before sending degrading, predatory words like that to anyone. We want people to know that this type of disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated. Above all, we just want our campus to be as safe as we can make it, but in order to be heard, we have to be loud. According to a campus climate survey last year from the American Association of Universities, almost one third of women at Penn face some form of sexual assault during college. That’s horrifying. We want to do whatever we can to keep our classmates safe. Hannah Judd, one of the students involved in the protest, put it best: “We recognized that the email was targeting freshman girls at one of the most vulnerable times in their lives.” We want to do whatever we can to make our campus safer.

Has the person responsible responded to you?

Nope. All silent.

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Is campus culture regarding freshman woman a big problem?

There’s a myth on Penn’s campus that if you step on a compass-shaped tile on Locust Walk before your first midterm, you’ll fail it. That myth was created years ago supposedly so that the frats on Locust Walk could see girls walk around the edges of the compass so that they’d know they’re freshmen. Just the fact that something like that is so ingrained in Penn culture is so upsetting. It’s not a Penn-specific issue, though – it’s a problem in American culture at large. You see things like Emma Sulkowicz’s mattress performance at Columbia, or the Brock Turner case at Stanford. It’s so wide-spread and sickening. Above all, we are in college to learn. Is it so much to ask if I want my friends to be able to get an education safely?

What should Penn and other universities do to limit this behavior?

I think that universities should take sexual assault allegations very seriously. In cases like the Brock Turner trial, there is a lot of dialogue about not wanting to ruin a student’s life because of “one mistake.” What that argument misses, though, is that sexual assault is a trauma that can last a lifetime. I also think that it’s important for campus mental health resources to be accessible and present for people dealing with trauma, and Penn has worked towards reforming their mental health resources since I’ve been here, which is nice to see, but there’s always more work to be done. Above all, I think change happens with the student body. We need to make sure men on campus know that we are their classmates, not their prey.

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