Michael Jones | Guest Writer | @MikeJonesSez
True Wolverine is a tradition at UVU that celebrates the college experience. Men and women come to the event each semester to participate in the process of becoming a ‘True Wolverine,’ which involves kissing someone in the courtyard at midnight. But not everyone that attends comes with that goal in mind. Some come to watch the awkward kissing. Some are there to be with friends as moral support or to enjoy the sociality of the evening. To say that everyone there is looking for a kiss is to create a blanket statement of entitlement and privilege.
I’m typically pretty reserved when it comes to public displays of affection, decidedly more so when it involves a perfect stranger. For the first time ever, I became a True Wolverine this semester, and I enjoyed it. But I also saw something that I found disturbing.
A friend of mine was encouraged to participate, and in the revelry, people began pulling her toward the stage to get her to kiss someone. I was right there and pulled her back and told our friends that she didn’t have to if she didn’t want to. Later in the evening, however, I was away from the group to get some hot chocolate and as I returned she was being coerced to go again. She was pulled out onto the platform and tried to escape by running to the other side, was grabbed and pulled back, and as she recounted to me after, “gave up and had to get rape-kissed.”
She told me that she was sick of being ‘rape-kissed’ and that she’d be fine participating in True Wolverine if she could kiss someone that meant something to her and that she doesn’t feel comfortable kissing strangers.
Pulled. Coerced. Tried to escape. Grabbed. These are all ugly terms that we would expect to read in an unfortunate report at some distant college, yet they are the only words I can use in reporting what I saw at UVU. I wish I could paint it in a more playful light, as I’m sure was the intention of those involved. I’m absolutely sure there was no malicious motivation. However, intent does not justify action, especially when another individual is involved. We must be sensitive to the wishes of others to govern their own experiences.
I spoke with this individual later, and she told me she felt stupid. She felt that people think she is dumb because she didn’t want to kiss that night. Let me emphatically state that this is not right. Our society should not be a place where a victim feels this way. This is unbecoming of a campus that is supposed to be accepting of everyone. Two months after the introduction of the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign we allowed a public spectacle to degenerate into an environment where coercion overruled communication and consent. I know many took the pledge, so let me remind what you committed to:
To recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault.
To identify situations in which sexual assault may occur.
To intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given.
To create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.
This pledge applies to both the egregious violation of rape as well as the seemingly harmless act of becoming a True Wolverine. Simply because we are enjoying ourselves and seeing the events in a jovial light does not mean we can impose that view onto others. Sharing a planet or a campus demands mutual respect. Empathy and understanding should inform our decisions.
The UVU Mission says, “Honor and integrity, respect and civility, commitment and diligence are essential in our learning community and in interpersonal relationships.” This, too, is what makes a True Wolverine. We can do better. It’s On Us.