By Sarah Edwards
Last month, I sat out by a table in Polk Place that was stationed to raise awareness for this October’s Relationship Violence Awareness Month. I and a few other students handed out flyers and encouraged the students passing back and forth between classes, to write on a poster board we called “The Love Wall.” We asked an open question: What does love mean?
True, it’s a broad question and one that most students were stumped to answer (myself included) with a Sharpie, five minutes before class. Nevertheless, it’s a question that needs to be asked; particularly on a college campus. With recent studies showing that upward of 40% of college students have experienced relationship violence, it is easy to surmise that we don’t have a clear understanding of what love looks like. Or, at the very least, we get confused about what a healthy relationship should look like and what boundaries need to be put in place. Relationship violence is never acceptable and it is unacceptable that it is actually a normative occurrence in college relationships. There are many common misconceptions about violence—both sexual and physical—and it can be easy to believe that violence occurs randomly from strangers, and it is not an extension of interpersonal relationships. More often than not, however, sexual and physical violence occurs in dating relationships.
While sitting at the table last week, a younger guy came over, lured by a promise of a free purple pen.
“So what’s all this about?” we told him, and he nodded “Oh yeah, I totally agree with that. Relationship violence is bad. Girls really need to stop dating douches!”
Of course, relationship violence can be perpetrated by both males and females, although females tend to be the primary victim. But this guy’s reaction highlights a dangerous belief about relationship violence, and one that needs to be changed: that violence is due to the poor relationship choices of the victim, rather than choosing to believe that violence doesn’t need to exist. Period! In order for UNC to change—and society, at large—the belief that “girls need to stop dating douches” needs to change to believing that guys (or any perpetrator of violence) need to stop being violent.
No matter what your definition of love is, it is never acceptable to abuse your partner. This October I hope you pursued the idea that we can all think about what real love looks like, and in doing so, become not just better romantic partners, but sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, friends. Relationship violence is real, and it’s ongoing: let’s make the cycle end here, in October and for the rest of the year.
Sarah Edwards is a junior American Studies major from Davidson, NC. She is interning this semester for the Carolina Women’s Center.