For the most part, Boston College’s social scene revolves around the distinctly un-sober environment of football games, tailgates, bars, and mod parties. This scene appeals to a lot of students, but there is also a particularly damaging aspect of social life at BC that is not often spoken of: the institutional oppression of women, and how it correlates to sexual assault on campus.
Newly exposed to the woes of womanhood at BC, Jasmine Schmidt, MCAS '21, said, “I feel like this campus creates an environment that’s almost oppressive to women where we often don’t feel comfortable speaking up for ourselves. I think the ‘bro culture’ creates an atmosphere where women can feel very judged.”
It is no secret that Boston College cultivates a hyper-masculine atmosphere, replete with rigid gender stereotypes, causing many women on campus to feel repressed and insecure. In fact, a 2014 study from the Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment at BC showed alarmingly disproportionate self-esteem levels among male and female students at BC. It conveys that female students progressively lose their confidence during their four years here. The trend proves to be the opposite for male students, who leave BC with greater confidence than when they began as freshmen, despite having, on average, lower GPAs than their female counterparts.
Many at BC, including Professor H. John McDargh, who teaches the much sought-after class, “Spirituality and Sexuality,” believe that this anomaly can be partially accredited to University’s “bro culture.” USA Today College refers to “bro culture” as “not just macho behaviors in general, but also darker things like binge drinking, sexism, rape culture and other elements associated with hyper masculinity.” McDargh has observed this tone of hyper-masculinity over the course of his forty years at the University, and surmises that BC’s sports culture and the disproportionate number of male students that come from all boys’ Catholic high schools likely contribute to this type of atmosphere.
“I think all guys’ high schools become grounds of incubation, where there are a lot of insecure men trying to figure out how to live up to the boy code,” said McDargh. “And male sports culture, in general, is about showing invincibility: real men don’t cry, aren’t vulnerable.”
Professor McDargh believes BC’s Jesuit roots may have something to do with the “tone deafness” some colleagues have towards women. “We’re taught by a religious order that is the only major Catholic order [without] a female parallel component, unlike the Franciscan and Dominican orders,” said McDargh.
Adding to the cacophony of sexism, exclusion, and disempowerment is the term gaining popularity on campus: “Senior Washed Up Girl,” or “SWUG” for short. A common label for senior women at Boston College, the term relates to the off-putting and predatory custom of male upperclassmen encouraging freshmen girls, who are often eager to fit in, to attend their parties. Senior girls who no longer seek this type of validation are viewed as “washed up” by men on campus.
Noah Penders, MCAS ’18, says he has witnessed firsthand the pervasive sexist attitudes on campus throughout his years at the university.
“I played football my freshman year here, and I’ve had a wide variety of experiences with different people… there is a very Barstool Sports culture here,” said Penders. “Some of the [Barstool Sports] videos are just blatantly misogynistic, it’s a demeaning and degrading company, and I think those kinds of attitudes are really prevalent on this campus.”
Barstool Sports is a sports culture site that routinely promotes sexist and derogatory content through its various social media outlets. Headlines include, “The Epidemic Of Gold Digging Whores” and “Guess What? I’m Bringing Back The Word ‘C***.’”
“There are a lot of good people here," Penders added, "but I’d say for the vast majority, if I’m going to stand up for a woman in a compromising position, or even if someone makes a comment to her that is off-color, I’d definitely be seen as effeminate [by other male students], which is equated with weakness, which is equated with unpopularity on campus.”
The existing culture of hyper-masculinity, sexist attitudes, and diminishing confidence levels of female students lay the groundwork for a social scene conducive to sexual assault. This oppressive atmosphere creates a culture in which men think it’s okay to be overly aggressive or pushy with women, and women are conditioned to believe that this behavior is normal.
In January of 2014, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was established under the Obama administration. In the Task Force’s first report, it identified campus climate surveys as the best practice to effectively gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campuses, as well as students’ attitudes towards sexual violence, explicitly encouraging all colleges to administer them.
At the official unveiling of the Task Force, Vice President Joe Biden said, “I challenge every college and university, if they are really serious about protecting students, to conduct anonymous surveys. They have a responsibility to know what’s going on on their campuses.”
Since the inception of the Task Force, well-known colleges across the nation have complied, including most Boston-area schools, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts, Boston University, Northeastern, and Harvard. Boston College, however, has neither conducted a campus climate survey nor has it expressed any intention to do so.
This semester, a group of BC students administered their own smaller scale climate survey as part of the team-taught Complex Problems course, “Understanding Race, Gender, and Violence.” The results were presented to the class at the end of the semester, but the University has prohibited those results from being shared outside of the classroom. If BC wants to protect its students and create a safer campus environment, the administration must work harder to prevent sexual assault.
Although educational programs, like the bystander prevention initiative, Stand Up BC, are a step in the right direction, the University cannot hope to resolve these issues without first investigating the frequency of sexual assault and attitudes surrounding it here on campus.