You don’t have to be a private investigator to comprehend the memes or lyrics in current popular music that perpetuate sexual assault, you just have to take heed with a conscious ear. Women Against Violence Against Women, defines rape culture as a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. As a devoted music lover and social media blogger as well as Student Affairs Professional on the campus of Norfolk State University, some colleagues and I worked on a traveling presentation entitled “Down in the Dm’s: Social Media’s and Music’s desensitization of Rape Culture.” We represent the campus in numerous capacities covering; student activities, housing and residence life, and learning communities.
For me, the topic started off as a curiosity in Title IX and Student Conduct, the sway came when I saw a meme that blatantly said “Rape isn’t funny. But it is pretty cheap”, accompanied with a $4 price tag. Then I heard the popular lyrics of Rocko’s, Rick Ross and Future’s U.O.E.N.O. I deleted that song from my iTunes playlist after I recognized social media and music was numb to rape culture.
My colleagues and I immediately felt that we needed to educate our student population on the tactics social media and the music industry uses to serene rape culture. The state of Virginia has identified three populations that are often marginalized in the reporting of domestic violence, rape, and stalking which includes, African-Americans, elderly, and those with limited English proficiency. Norfolk State proudly services, largely African-Americans, which compelled us to do something to empower and educate our scholars.
We wanted to have a courageous conversation about a sensitive area often muted and steered away from on college campuses and within the African-American community. We sought ways to identify fables and misconstructions, ways to contest behaviors, provide resources, and engage in transfixing honest conversations. We used the ACPA/NSAPA Social Justice and Inclusion competency to identify rape culture as an avenue of multiple identities and sociopolitical perspectives, while also connecting our campus values or integrity, civility, and engagement.
Immediately, my colleagues and I began to question how our campus and society viewed rape. We wanted to ensure we were adding value to the dialogue around rape but we were unsure how we should direct this presentation and dialogue given such a short period of time (1 hour). Hesitant at first, we thought our word choice in piecing together the presentation would be repulsive and offputting but then we realized that when the problem is not addressed often or at all on some college campuses by practitioners, this provides room for common misconceptions. It seems that Student Affairs Professionals often have lives that are detached from work and family and moreover, we fail to identify the liquid characteristics that transition from home to work and vice versa. The team I have the wonderful pleasure of working with did great job adjusting to the climate and understanding the importance of this presentation regarding our art, music, literature, and student population. We shared something special, we revealed personal experiences, testimonies, and counsel to change the culture of rape.
During our first run through the presentation with our office staff, we outlined some popular songs in music that questioned the lyrical content and agenda. As mentioned earlier, U.O.E.N.O vividly depicts rapper Rick Ross verse, “Put a Molly all in her champagne, she ain’t even know it, I took her home and I enjoyed that, she ain’t even know it.” Lyrics such as this often reassure male sexual aggression by assisting the perpetuation of ownership of women as property, drug and alcohol usage. Aside from reassurance of damaging behavior, dangerous lyrics like this lend themselves to a desensitization to rape culture.
During the presentation, we asked “How does the African-American community educate on Rape Culture?” This provided us with an opportunity to have an insightful conversation and provided beneficial information that my colleagues proud of our ability to seek resources and collaborate across campus. However, the question of how to translate what we often take for granted as “Student Affairs Speak” to our students still lingered. Running through the presentation with other student affairs folks provided us the opportunity to share best practices regarding how to have such difficult conversations. We discussed that being experts of our own experiences does not discredit the experiences of others, the importance of “I” statements, the ideology of “male privilege” and confidentiality.
The journey to developing this presentation was one of a valuable lesson of self-identity. It takes courage to identify personal fallacies and even more courage to speak on misconceptions and myths in society. I’m thankful for my university and colleagues (Zia and Tariq) for starting the conversation with me on how to educate and elevate the campus climate at Norfolk State University.
Michael Williams is the Coordinator of Male Initiatives at Norfolk State University. As coordinator, he organizes academic and social programs for male students. Previously, Michael served as a Resident Hall Educator and co-advisor for Brothers4Brothers, a male mentoring program at Ferrum College in Ferrum, Virginia. Michael is a graduate of California University of Pennsylvania where he earned a Master of Science in Exercise Science and Health Promotions. He obtained a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from Chowan University in Murfreesboro, North Carolina.