Written by Sarah Alcantar.
Amid the recent allegations raised against Brett Kavanaugh, an alum of Georgetown Prep and Yale Law, it’s worth analyzing whether or not certain academic institutions cultivate toxic masculinity at a systematic level. As a student in ASU’s honors’ college, I’m surrounded by people who spent their formative years attending prestigious institutions. While there is irrefutably much to be gained from such an education, the testimonies raised against Kavanaugh prove there is a considerable amount to be lost. After talking to several girls about their experiences attending one of the top 5 private schools in the US, I began to realize that these schools’ reluctance to address wrongdoings only strengthened the perpetrators belief in their own invincibility and superiority.
For thousands every semester you get to learn from PhD bearing intellectuals. But in between the invaluable lessons AP Physics and IB English Literature had to offer, a subliminal message was being passed along, trading hands between students like an illicit note harboring some well known secret. A school should always be a safe haven for its students, a place where they can count on being accepted and kept safe. What many of these students didn’t know upon enrolling, was that there was an asterisk above that word ‘safe’ which begged the question, “safe for who?” The students seeking acceptance and an education or the sexual predators taking advantage of them? Louder than any of the subliminal messages, is one ringing loud and clear above all the criticism: that you were better than everyone else. “They sat us down at assemblies and told us we were smarter than everyone and more talented than everyone,” one students said of her school.
The purpose of these institutions is clear, an unspoken rule underlying all of the campus’ practices; these schools were a place for the rich to garner the skills necessary to become richer, while gaining none of the integrity they lacked in the acquisition of this wealth. Wrongdoings were excused with donations and curt reminders of exactly which last names the perpetrators bore. We talk about this abstractly among each other, but nothing compares to the uncomfortable reality.
I spoke with three female students who attended one such institution (which for the purpose of their privacy will remain unnamed) and graduated in the past few years about any incidences they deemed problematic. There were the traditional instances of unfair dress codes and female students, particularly those of certain body types, being disproportionately targeted. There were other stranger incidences of male sports teams being forbidden from participating in powder puff football as cheerleaders lest it result in emasculation. The most shocking events were those related to sexual assault and the courses of action taken following the reports made.
“She was a freshman on scholarship and he was a senior,” the girl began. “It had been going on for a while before she reported it. She submitted this formal complaint to the counselors. She had to attend all these meetings where she told her side of the story over and over. The boy ended up confessing eventually to a school official, but it wasn’t recorded. He denied it later and since there was no real proof of him admitting it, it was his word against hers. He was a good student. The people who decided whether he was guilty or not were two middle school spanish teachers. It was dismissed eventually and his only punishment was not being able to walk the stage at graduation. He had a history of sexual assault, some harassment thing. I think he goes to school at Tulane now. She was slut shamed a lot afterwards.”
From one prestigious school to the next, sexual offenders are able to walk free without a scratch on their record. The lesson was clear, to the victim and to the boy who never suffered any real consequences. There was a power behind the silence, behind the inaction. “She told me later that her biggest regret was not going to the police first,” the girl said. The culture of such institutions teaches its students a dangerous lesson. From the perspective of victims who never receive retribution from an uncaring and enabling administration, there is little use in speaking up. There’s a thousand words for it: entitlement, “hypermasculinity,” toxic masculinity, privilege, rape culture. The central message is the same. If you come from a position of enough power, you can get away with just about anything. Especially if schools are determined enough to maintain their pristine reputation.
It is a system that exists within perpetuity. Privilege begets more privilege. With this privilege safeguarding them, those in power can behave however they deem fit. These institutions, elite as they are, exist within a bubble wherein they govern what is just and what is not. It’s time to break the silence, to seize that which makes them so powerful.