Commentary by Laura Fay
Colleges across the country are grappling with how to manage sexual assault and harassment as well as other incidents of misconduct. A White House Task Force published new guidelines in April to help schools deal with these issues. Although the recommendations intend to protect students and hold perpetrators accountable, they make some unnecessary assumptions.
One of the suggestions is that institutions “engage men as allies” in the process. According to the policy, “when we empower men to step in when someone’s in trouble, they become part of the solution.”
Although this is accurate — male bystanders have the power to stop many incidents — it seems inherently insulting. This attitude assumes men are not already empowered to look out for members of their community who might be in trouble. In addition, women, too, have the power to engage in bystander intervention and prevention, and we should be actively encouraging them to do so.
Both men and women can be the perpetrators or victims of sexual harassment and misconduct. Both men and women have the power to make a difference.
We need to empower each other to stand up when something isn’t right, and we need to start a dialogue about these issues that is based on respect and concern for others rather than on sex and gender.