By Ana Hurler
Students gathered to discuss the systemic issues surrounding racism and sexual assault Wednesday night at the Our People, Connecting Anti-Rape and Anti-Racism Work presentation in the Stamp Student Union.
Neil Irvin, executive director of Men Can Stop Rape, a D.C. based non-profit organization that educates men to create an environment free of violence, especially against women, presented the event. It was organized by the Office of Civil Rights & Sexual Misconduct and the Office of Multicultural Involvement & Community Advocacy.
Irvin said his passion is youth advocacy, and he travels across the country to educate and serve as a role model for boys and young men. He is a University of Maryland alumnus, and often returns to give presentations and lectures.
During his presentation, Irvin explained the connections between racism and sexual assault, which he said can be traced back to a predominantly white male society. He said these two dominant aspects are similar because they were never questioned or challenged.
“That’s how the system works,” Irvin said.
Carson Wilson, a senior economics major, said “toxic masculinity” can be a big issue, especially when kids don’t have good role models to look up to.
“Changing the culture like that is a long, long process, but it’s something that we need to focus on,” he said. “It’s valuable.”
Irvin explained that women grow up learning about how to protect themselves in a manner similar to how people of color are taught on a daily basis to prevent being victims of racism. These precautions are taken systematically even though those acts of violence are only carried out by a relatively small population.
“The rest of us as men will never perpetrate an act of sexual assault.That doesn’t mean I don’t have a responsibility.” Irvin said, adding that we must all work to create a safer environment every day.
Sophomore criminology major Elizabeth Crosley said it’s important for students to be aware of these problems, but that the message still isn’t reaching everyone.
“Every time I come to an event like this, all the people that are coming here and sitting here and listening to this, they’re the ones that already know,” she said. “I wish that the people that needed to be reached were being reached.”
Irvin emphasized that we should appreciate the opportunity to learn about other cultures and to have conversations about how we can be allies for each other.
“Don’t ever let cultural competency become a barrier for learning,” he said.
Kevin Webb, training manager for the Office of Civil Rights & Sexual Misconduct, organized the event. He said he hopes students’ main takeaway is “seeing things from other people’s perspectives and also not being afraid to have these difficult conversations.”
“We have to link these efforts, our anti-rape efforts and our anti-racism work, because all of these forms of oppression work together to keep us divided when we really have a lot more in common than we’re lead to believe,” Webb said.
Several students voiced their concerns during the presentation about how they can show their support for people of other races when they don’t share the same cultural experiences.
Irvin said some people try to solve this problem by ignoring others’ different races and ethnicities, but we need to acknowledge others’ experiences and be sincere in our support of others.
“People say we’re all alike but that’s not true,” Irvin said.
Senior food science major Anna Wooten said her takeaway was that this support could be “showing up, even if it’s an event that’s not for people that look like you … even if you don’t contribute your voice to maybe even just contribute your body as a number in the crowd.”
Irvin concluded his presentation by shedding light on the wide range of diversity on campus, and the special opportunity students are given to engage in open dialogue about these issues.