College Campus “Etiquette”: Yes Means Yes, No Means No

 “Enough is enough.
It’s time to stop sexual assaults on our college campuses.”
~ Whoopi Goldberg

To continue my series this month on women’s issues to commemorate National Women’s History Month in the U.S. and International Women’s Day on March 8, I am focusing on a situation that young women are facing on today’s college campuses: rape and sexual assault.
According to the most recent study on the subject, as reported in Mother Jones, “…by the time they are seniors, 1 in 5 undergraduate women report experiencing sexual assault since they started college.” It is unthinkable that our daughters, sisters, students, cousins, neighbors and other young women heading off to earn their university degrees, revel in a valuable college experience and prepare to start their adult lives and determine their future careers also have a 20% chance of being raped during that time. In addition to the aforementioned disturbing statistic, a recent study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that a disturbing 80% of campus rapes go unreported.
Another study reports, “fraternity men were three times more likely to commit rape than other men on college campuses,” and last year The Atlantic published an article entitled, “The Dark Power of Fraternities.” In addition, numerous studies have shown that alcohol is often a catalyst in sexual assaults on college campuses, including reports by Wayne State University, Harvard School of Public Health and Northern Virginia Community College, to name a few.
Greek fraternities aren’t the only hotbeds of drinking and sexual assault. Rape occurs on various college campuses, some more than others, and the Big 10 colleges have reported sexual assaults, as well. Then there are the military academies; according to a report by the Service Women’s Action Network, “In the 2009‐2010 academic year, 41 sexual assaults were reported at the service academies, a 64% increase from the prior year.”The report also notes, “Young and impressionable cadets and midshipmen are being socialized into behaviors and beliefs that perpetuate the rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment crisis.”

What Do We Do?

Rape is not a new problem, but as humanity evolves we expect our species to behave with a higher level of ethics and morality. So what do we do?

Across the nation the clarion call is “yes means yes.” Apparently, the time-honored “no means no” was not strong enough for some men on campus, so now women, colleges and others are clarifying that there must be a “yes” — a clear green light — before initiating sexual overtures.

Another strong message is Whoopi’s statement on behalf of New York State’s college campuses, “Enough is enough. It’s time to stop sexual assaults on our college campuses. Enough looking the other way. It’s time to look out for each other. Enough hiding the crime. It’s time victims were able to report the attack to any police agency. Enough blaming the victim. It’s time we all stand up, step in and take responsibility. Because, really, enough is enough. It’s time to make all of New York’s college campuses safe and stop sexual assault.”

Repeat: It’s time we all stand up and take responsibility. Here’s how:


With numbers of women now equaling or outnumbering men in colleges and universities, it’s time that women start setting the campus social agendas, or at least have an equal say in them (the exception is enrollment in military academies, where male enrollment still dominates). Empowering women to take charge of their social lives and not let them be dictated by men might reduce the number of sexual assaults, which have become a scourge of modern campus life. And, women also must ensure that efforts to protect them on campus do not punish them or treat them as children. It is the perpetrators — the sexual predators — that we must focus on, not potential or actual victims.

It’s also important that women who are victims of sexual assault not blame themselves. Women traditionally tend to take responsibility and question their own behavior when something bad happens to them. In the case of sexual assault, women often wonder if they gave the wrong impression, sent the wrong signal, wore the wrong clothes or drank too much. The victim of sexual attack, especially when it’s date or acquaintance rape, grapples with whether she did something to provoke it. Women get this about themselves; now we have to get over it. We have long known that rape is not about sexual attraction or desire; it’s about power, control and punishment. Date rape is no different; any sexual contact that is forced upon someone is a crime. Whether or not the perpetrator misreads or ignores his victim’s message, he is still guilty of assault.

Based on my own experiences and recent research, here are my recommendations to young women on campus:

  • Avoid high-incidence times and places for sexual assault. The beginning of the first semester is a busy time, and the window of opportunity for sexual predators to strike. Be aware that rapes are more common during Friday and Saturday nights between the hours of 12:00-6:00 a.m. during September, October and November. They are also more likely to occur in apartments and other party sites off-campus or in dorm rooms, and very likely to occur in a man’s room. Women who live in sorority houses are more vulnerable, women who live in dorms are slightly less vulnerable and those who live off campus are statistically safer from assault.
  • Take charge and host your own sorority parties rather than attending frat parties on their turfs and terms. This gives you the “home court advantage,” according to Washington University senior Dania Roach in this New York Times article, “Sorority Anti-Rape Idea: Drinking on Own Turf.”
  • Work with your college to institute fair and non-sexist solutions. 
  • Don’t drink and jive. By that I mean don’t drink and party or wind up talking gibberish. While we women are equals with men, we are different in many ways. One of those ways is our ability to hold liquor; most women cannot drink as much as men and remain sober. That, as well as the fact that young women are binge drinking more than ever puts them into compromising situations, especially when partying or dating. Stay sober. Start when you’re in high school.
  • There is safety in numbers. So keep the number of drinks down and number of friends up. Go to parties with friends, including trusted guy friends if possible, and look out for each other. Make contacts for later so you can get to know people away from the party scene.
  • Don’t leave your drink — or food — unattended. Statistically, spiked drinks apparently don’t happen frequently, but they do happen. Don’t leave your drinks unattended; only sip drinks that you’ve seen the bartender or someone else poor from a bottle in front of you (and sometimes even that doesn’t help). Don’t drink, or eat, anything that looks, smells or tastes strange; this is not the time to experiment.
  • Trust your gut. There is no better gauge than your own instinct. If something seems wrong to you it probably is, no matter what anyone else says. If you can’t trust yourself who can you trust?
  • Believe and support victims of assault. If someone tells you that she has been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted, believe her and give her aid and comfort. Support her in however she decides to handle her attack and attacker. Many women choose not to report the crime and that is their choice. But for those women who do, they are helping to prevent their attackers from striking again. And, it might be cathartic and healing to take steps to obtain justice for themselves and other women, as well as men who have been raped (yes, that happens as well).
  • Know your legal rights and stand up for them. Familiarize yourself with Title IX and the Clery Act and ensure that your campus mates–both women and men–know and understand them. And, as a high school student, when you conduct your college search be sure to include questions about policies regarding sexual assault – prevention, investigation and remediation and weigh the answers.
  • Report an attack if you become a victim. And hold your head up high. You are not the one who perpetrated a vicious and outrageous attack. Seek support and make the report. Talk with your parents or other trusted adult who can help you navigate the process of healing and seeing that your attacker is brought to justice.
  • Talk about it. Keep the topic in the limelight until the problem is eliminated.
  • Beginning at a very young age, create an atmosphere of respect for everyone, including women. Have the talk with your sons about violence and rape.
  • Beginning at a very young age, create an environment where girls are treated as equals to boys and let their confidence and competence blossom. Teach them that wrong behavior need not be endured or tolerated.
  • Monitor your child’s behavior throughout her or his childhood, adolescence and teen years. And keep your influence flowing throughout college. And, most important, let your child know that you are there for her or him always.
  • Learn your child’s high school and college policies and procedures for preventing, investigating and punishing sexual assault and harassment. And ask hard questions of prospective colleges your child wishes to attend.
  • Ensure that your rape and sexual assault prevention policies and initiatives are strong, proactive, inclusive, reasonable and fair.
  • Avoid the impression that the institution isn’t doing everything it can. Worth watching is the powerful film, The Hunting Ground, which was introduced in January at the Sundance Film Festival and in selected theatres as well as being shown on some college campuses. Here are New York Times and Rolling Stone reviews. Some colleges are coming under federal investigation for their approaches to handling sexual assaults.
  • Comply with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, AKA the Clery Act, a federal law that requires colleges and universities to notify students about crime on their campuses, publish their crime statistics, publicize their respective institution’s policies and procedures to prevent as well as respond to them, and advise victims of their basic rights.
  • Understand that students and parents are being encouraged to ask questions about your institution’s policies to prevent and prosecute campus rapes when they conduct their college searches. Practice transparency, integrity and decency in your responses and actions.


Most men are not sexual predators, and this is true on college campuses, as well. According to reports, the problem consists of a relatively small percentage of men who are serial rapists. They not only victimize women, but also the men they try to corrupt into copying their criminal behavior. Don’t let others define you. Here’s some guidelines to help you maintain your integrity and set the right example:

  • Understand that “No” means “no” and the new campus rules that “Yes” means “Yes.” 
  • Control your drinking. Staying sober means you can get to know women as individuals, form solid friendships and perhaps a real romantic relationship.
  • Take steps to preserve your character and integrity. Choose your friends carefully (where have you heard that before?). Keep in mind that there is life after college and your reputation must be intact for the rest of it.
  • Trust your gut and follow your own standards and practices. Stand up for your principles, not the principles of others. Be a leader, not a follower; set your own example rather than following others’ misguided actions. You have to live with yourself the rest of your life; be sure you’re someone you like.
  • Understand that there are both laws and campus policies that are broken when someone sexually assault others, both women and men. Certain actions, intensions, participation and involvement on any level can result in expulsion from college, criminal charges, jail time, lawsuits against you and your family, monetary settlements and a loss of reputation that can follow you for life.
  • Take a stand against rape and other sexual assault, either individually or by joining a campus or national group effort. If it’s your goal to someday be a professional in your chosen field, outstanding husband and family man and respected member of the community, be sure you are on the right side of this issue.

Working together, we can change the “1 in 5” to “0 in 5.”

Until next time,







2 thoughts on “College Campus “Etiquette”: Yes Means Yes, No Means No

  1. Candace Smith says:

    Thank you, Jeanne, for this labor of love and your dedication to making our world a better place.“Yes Means Yes, No Means No” Mean what you say and say what you mean! These are good rules of thumb for all of us.Our informal culture can be bewildering to say the least.Best regards,Candace


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