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Keep moving forward in the MU dialogue about sexual assault, rape

Monday, February 10, 2014 | 5:50 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — It felt great to be a Tiger on Sunday night. The outpouring of support for MU football player Michael Sam's announcement that he is gay — my social media circles had very little negative reaction — reminded me why I fell in love with this campus culture.

But the news was also a distraction, diverting the community from an equally important and unresolved issue — that MU has started to admit that it has a problem with mental health and rape culture.

Resources

There are excellent resources available from multiple organizations in Columbia, including the MU Counseling Center and Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center. True North offers counseling services, support groups and victim's advocates.

The Mid-Missouri Crisis Line offers 24-hour crisis intervention via phone or text. Call 445-5035, 888-761-HELP (toll free) or text HAND to 839863.

 



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In January, stories surfaced about former MU swimmer Sasha Menu Courey, claiming that no action was taken in response to her report of the rape by one or more members of the football team while she was a student. In June 2011, Menu Courey died after swallowing 100 Tylenol tablets.

Columbia Police have opened a criminal investigation into the matter, and the university plans to hire an independent investigator to look into the way the university handled the situation. But, let's look at one difference between these two incidents:

News about Menu Courey did not shine a positive light on university behavior. Sam's announcement was widely embraced.

Sunday's announcement earned an immediate flood of social media support from across the country. Fans and others were not as quick to talk publicly about Menu Courey's assault.

Recently, folks around Columbia were beginning to talk about Menu Courey when the snowstorm, the Winter Olympic Games and Sam shifted the conversation.

The problem is this: The rape culture will not go away just because people stop talking about it. Menu Courey was not the first to accuse MU athletes of sexual assault, nor will she be the last. This was not the first time allegations of sexual assault have been mishandled, nor will it be the last.

Everyone must join the conversation if anything is going to change. The passionate folks at the Missourian have spent hours trying to encourage the discussion as did a member of the community outreach team, Nate Anton, in  LET'S TALK: The underreporting of rape and sexual assault at MU.

Joy Mayer, the Missourian's director of community outreach, often prompts us to think about how we can continue the conversation. She asks us: "How can we get information into the hands of the people who need it the most?"

Ideally, a conversation about sexual assault would encircle the entire MU community, including members of Greek Life and athletes, instead of "preaching to the choir," as she puts it, reaching people who consistently advocate for this issue.

I consider myself part of that group. I am an alumna of a Greek chapter at MU and a former cast member of  "The Vagina Monologues" at MU, a production that aims to raise awareness about violence against women.

I don't regard my Panhellenic sisters as hesitant to speak up about rape culture or the stigma surrounding mental illness. I know them as intelligent, engaged women who want to improve the community around them.

While I remember many thoughtful conversations with my group of friends, it hasn't translated into a larger community effort. We need to discuss this in mixed company, with MU administrators and law enforcement and government officials sharing a sense of urgency for change.

Much to my disappointment, the Greek system has not responded to the Missourian's effort to get them involved. I understand the need to manage media involvement in a community often facing negative stereotypes, but we're looking for a different type of relationship.

The Missourian wants to engage members of our campus community in conversation and help educate students about the reality of sexual assault and mental health, a topic many chapters already include in their member education.

It can be an uncomfortable topic, but journalists aren't here to keep you comfortable. We're here to give you information and, sometimes, inspire action that makes our community better.

It's easy to think that rape is something that only happens to someone else, but it impacts everyone. A message from my orientation into Greek life was "you can ignore a statistic, but you can't ignore a sister."

Don't ignore the statistics or the news but think about what you can do to keep the university focused on solutions. Do something to challenge a culture that allows power-based violence to continue.

Even if you don't join the conversation with the Missourian, which I sincerely hope you do, join a conversation at our university that will end these awful stories for good.

Stephanie Ebbs is a graduate student in journalism and an assistant city editor at the Columbia Missourian.


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