Waning attention mirrors waning attendance

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • January 23, 2014

Students turned out in flocks to see the “kind of a big deal” Ron Burgundy—yet when it came down to an issue that many consider an actual big deal, students were conspicuously absent.

After reports in October that Emerson mishandled its response to students’ sexual assaults, administrators announced—among other steps to improve the college’s policies—they would hold a community gathering to hear reactions, and hire a professional, dedicated sexual assault prevention and response advocate. The former, a town hall meeting held in the aftermath of media scrutiny and countless Facebook posts, drew 275 people.

But when two candidates for the advocate position visited the campus over the last week to offer their plans and ideas for tackling the problem, attendance did not quite match that precedent: aside from a Beacon reporter, only two students went to the first event, and none went to the second. The administration announced the presentations in multiple email blasts ahead of time. People have rightly shown up to vent frustrations and concerns; they seem less eager, though, to take part in the less glamorous steps toward change.

When the initial Huffington Post article was published, there was copious backlash against the college, perhaps most notably through social media. Students showcased their rage and discontent in the form of 140-character tweets, paragraph-long Facebook statuses, and forwarded links of the original article via email. Yet, when the opportunity arose to make a positive change in regard to the same issue, those Facebook users and Twitter avatars were nowhere to be found. The conventional wisdom surrounding this is that it is simply easier to post a status complaining than to physically show up and be active. However, words are far less likely to yield progressive change than action.

The nuts and bolts of change—like listening to candidates speak and providing feedback—may not set the heart racing like a protest on the Common, but that process is equally as important. We can’t simply sit on the proverbial sidelines and wait for meaningful policy revisions to occur, not when the college has so deliberately extended its hand to include us in the process. We should take these opportunities to influence decisions, not let them pass and complain later.

This is not nitpicking, but rather an important call to attention to something pivotal for the Emerson community. These meetings were representative of something our students deserve: security. Those in attendance had the opportunity to not only listen to the candidates’ presentations, but could then give their candid input immediately after. A significant step in the democratization of collegiate decisionmaking, this was a unique opportunity for those demanding change to help their efforts come to fruition. Though administrators invited students to help make a deliberate choice in just who gets entrusted with these delicate issues, only two were able to comment—and none could appraise the second candidate.

It is important that the next two candidates, speaking Jan. 31 and Feb. 4, have their gaze met by a more diverse crowd. A cursory glance at emails about these events may not convey just how meaningful they can be to the future well-being of ourselves and our friends in difficult situations. These presentations are symbolic of a power shift: They are the first step in providing a platform for stifled voices and comfort for those who have long felt marginalized or alone. It is an obligation to all sexual assault survivors that we resolve to show our belief in the significance of the issue of sexual assault and its harrowing effects. And it is an obligation to ourselves that we persevere, from protest to implementation, and see our goals realized.