As I sat down to write this letter, I thought of all of the ways that I could talk about consent: the posters we have on campus, the presentations that have been provided, the emails I’ve sent and received, and the definitions to which we each are bound. But then I stepped back and realized that while this letter has everything to do with that, it has to go beyond what we “must” do and identify that we shouldn’t just be working toward compliance or not violating a code of conduct. We need to build a conversation where consent is central to everything, but the message is deeper. Working toward prevention and education means not just talking about definitions and behaviors, but looking at ways in which we can work together to change the culture of our campus. We each play a role in that. Prevention, awareness, knowledge, bystander effect, and accountability are as much of a campus and social responsibility as an individual responsibility. Knowing that you matter is just as important as realizing that every other person who shares this campus with you matters just the same.
While previous experiences and beliefs impact how we view and function in the world, they should not be used to judge others. Be present. Some moments in the future will remind us of all we missed by worrying only about immediate wants or all that “stuff” that was waiting in the future. People leave us too soon and moments are sometimes all we have. Putting in the work to do a better job of communicating with one another, instead of functioning from biases, creates a space where all opinions and experiences are given a chance to be understood. Sharing our stories and LISTENING is how we bridge the gaps which divide us. It is important to go beyond the conversation of consent and break down a culture that supports harm of any kind to our community members- whether it is an issue of gender violence, racism, ableism, heterosexism, the intersection of any of the above (or those which aren’t listed) – and whether it is through words, actions, or silence.
As you sit and think about what consent is, about how you can do better, or as you sit and think thoughts that no one can govern, please remember some very important things:
No person owes anyone access to their body, story, or identity. That must be decided by the individual. And we don’t get to choose how our choices impact others. Being at 100% when it comes to knowing whether or not you have permission to touch a person, how to refer to a person, how a person identifies is not just mandatory – it is EVERYTHING. Every member of SUNY Plattsburgh has the opportunity and right to build a life here that creates the foundation of a better future on an individual and community level. Every member of SUNY Plattsburgh has the right to a safe place. We aren’t there yet, please keep working to make our community better.