Tapes of a U.S. presidential candidate boasting of his lewd behavior towards women were released on Friday, October 7. The tapes’ release coincided with the second-to-last run of “Good Kids”, a play that speaks out against sexual assault.
Austin Davidson, first year, played one of the assault perpetrators in “Good Kids”.
“It was sexual assault,” Davidson said of Donald Trump’s comments. “Being part of the show where I played one of the guys who did this, and then watching a man who maybe is going to lead our country saying this blows my mind.”
During the last presidential debate, the moderator also accused Trump of sexual assault. Trump protested, labeling his comments as “locker-room talk.”
“Anything that can be portrayed as harmful to women is not just “˜locker-room talk’. It’s violent rhetoric,” said first-year Chiara Pride after watching the debate.
Katie Farrell, senior who played a disabled sexual assault victim in “Good Kids”, said that it is wrong to label what Trump said as “locker-room talk”.
“Locker room talk in this situation is not a geographical place,” Farrel said. “What it stands for is conversation, actual conversation. How can you deny rape culture when you’ve seen that? It’s right there, a nominee for the president of the United States, engaging in rape culture and years later excusing it because of rape culture.”
Tim O’Sullivan, Title IX coordinator and vice president of Academic Affairs, has noticed a strong student reaction to the tapes.
“We did have a conversation about the recording before my Latin class yesterday,” Sullivan said. “It was fresh in everyone’s minds.”
Students are wrestling with how an issue like sexual assault should affect their choice in the 2016 election. Some feel forced into an unappealing decision.
“I’m very against Donald Trump and his rhetoric,” Pride said. “I was not originally fully supportive of Hillary Clinton, but I’ve definitely come around to her since our alternative is not the best.”
Others see sexual assault as a personal issue without little political relevance.
“For now I prefer Trump,” said first-year Shiyu Liu, “I think he’s right that Americans are losing jobs, and the reduction of taxes can attract many investments and create job opportunities. I think his meaning is that people shouldn’t talk about some statements he made 10 years ago and forget about policies that are important to the society and the economy.”
Senior Conor Young disagrees.
“The president is a person and so must have some kind of character,” Young said. “So while I’m not saying that the president has to be some kind of moral paragon, I do think character is a real issue as much as anything else.”
As a member of the Iota Chi Rho fraternity, Young is very involved with Greek life. Farrell, a theater major, not only played a leading role in “Good Kids” but co-founded a theater company called 180 Shift last spring. Young and Farrell are collaborating to use an approach called “forum theater” to address the issue of sexual assault across campus, including athletics and Greek life. Farrell and Young both believe the campus sexual-assault dialogue is relevant to the 2016 presidential election.
“People love to talk about a sex scandal or whatever is breaking in national news,” Young said. “The problem is they are not trying to advocate for change or say sexual assault is bad. They’re saying “˜that political party is bad’ based on the sexual assault committed by one of its top members. We use survivors as props.”
“One of the future presidents of the United States is probably in college right now, and of course the people who will elect that person,” Farrell said. “So it is important to educate ourselves on issues like sexual assault, like rape culture. It’s vital to how we address the world for the rest of our lives, especially in terms of politics and elections.”
The forum-theater project fits into Trinity’s ongoing conversation about sexual assault.
“The conversation was started by students,” said Sheryl Tynes, professor of sociology and vice president for Student Life. “There were some Trinity-related cases, some high-profile cases that got a lot of attention, stuff that came out in social media.”
The Coalition for Respect was formed in 2014 in part because of Trinity students’ concerned reactions to these cases. O’Sullivan hopes students will take this initiative to the national level, especially in the wake of Trump’s statements.
“There’s this sense that colleges are dealing with different kinds of problems than the rest of the country, but these are national problems, international problems,” O’Sullivan said. “I think that video is a disturbing reminder of what we already knew – that this is an important issue and we need to keep working on it.”
Tynes shares O’Sullivan’s vision.
“As a sociologist, I am always trying to get a handle on what can be done to make things better, because otherwise it’s just depressing,” Tynes said. “If you think about the women’s movement or LGBT movement or civil rights movement, those movements made a difference. That’s the way change happens, people saying it’s unacceptable the way things are. My hope is that a Trinity student who has gone through the things we’re talking about, like New Student Orientation and the Coalition for Respect, will know this is not OK.”