“Fathers, drop your daughters off here for freshmen orientation.”
“Daughter drop off”
“We’ll trade beers for girls”
“Fathers, thank you for sending us your daughters.”
I remember my first day of college. I was 16 years old, thrilled that I was admitted to the local university through a post-secondary program at my high school. I didn’t have a parking pass and had to walk a mile to campus, while sweating profusely in the Midwest August heat. I apologized to the graduate assistant about six times for showing up late to class. It was horribly embarrassing and I try to forget about it.
Because I was a high school student and commuted to school, I wasn’t on campus for the welcome weekend festivities, including moving into the residence halls, exploring campus and going out to the bars for the first time.
Maybe I was fortunate that I wasn’t on campus that first weekend, because for years, degrading signs about “freshmen orientation” or “not pulling out” have appeared on the main street across from the college I attended. These signs were commonplace at my school for years, and continue to be as normal over opening weekend as dropping hundreds of dollars on books at the university bookstore.
So – why should we care about these banners? Aren’t they all fun and games? What’s the harm in jokes about sex, right?
It’s easy to notice that many of the signs refer to “fathers” and “daughters.” This reinforces the idea that women are solely defined by their relationships to men, are owned by men in their lives, and that queer women & non-binary people don’t exist. Another example, “we’ll trade beer for girls” is an example of how women are compared to objects. It’s pretty easy to see why these messages are degrading to women. The thing about jokes is that they’re a reflection of our culture and contribute to an environment; this is an echo of sexist culture on college campuses all across the US. Just because it’s a joke, doesn’t give someone a consequence-free shield.
These banners are part of a campus culture that sweeps sexual assault under the rug, despite outcry among students and the growing concern among the general public. Over 50 schools are under investigation for Title IX violations. 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted during their college-age years. Sexual assault doesn’t occur in a vacuum; the reinforcing of rape as normal, that men are entitled to sex, that women owe men sex, that men are only the perpetrators and women are only the victims; These mindsets are a part of rape culture. Campus environments that allow these banners to stay up constantly reinforce these ideas about sex and sexual violence.
Don’t young people deserve a safe campus environment? Why is the “fun” of some students (mostly men) a priority over creating a welcoming atmosphere for new students, many of whom are teenagers? Universities say it’s about free speech. No one is asking the community to arrest students for a sign that is degrading towards women.
For concerned students, there are a number of ways to organize around these signs on campus. Hold an open forum so students can talk about their concerns with the signs. Have a positive welcome weekend event that counters the banners. Have someone in your community who has influence (a football coach, university official, city council member, greek organization president) go to the house and simply ask them to take it down. Work with your city council to brainstorm ways to hold neighbors accountable.
Shockingly, there are other ways to “have fun” and talk about sex while not promoting rape culture on campus. The students that create these signs can instead pass out free condoms, create positive or funny signs that don’t degrade women, host a workshop on how to use sex toys or about masturbation, or other ways to talk about sex and sexuality without acting predatorily towards young women on campus and promoting a culture of consent and safety.
University administrators, sports coaches, Greek organizations, and students all across the US – when will you stop prioritizing the “entertainment” of a small group of students and start working towards a more inclusive and safer culture for everyone on college campuses?