Skip to page content

Complicating conversations about sexual assaults, white privilege

Kathryn Kao

October 19, 2015

Permalink

After spending seven years as the director of a campus-based women's center and 10 years working with survivors of sexual assault, Chris Linder is no stranger to the inequities of the world around us.

During this time, Linder, an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services, noticed how historically underrepresented groups, including women and people of color, were continually excluded by established policies and practices at institutions of higher education. Because of these experiences, her research on race and gender is centered around sexual violence on college campuses.

"It's an issue that's getting a lot of attention nationally, and my interest in that area is to complicate the conversation a little bit," says Linder, who also serves on the board of directors of The Cottage, a nonprofit sexual assault and children's advocacy center in Athens.

While many universities continue to focus on the appropriate response to sexual assault, Linder's goal is to establish preventative measures by helping college students understand the myths surrounding sexual violence.

Her recent research focuses on how campus environments relate to sexual assault. One project looks at the ways activists use social media to raise awareness, while another investigates the way the issue is portrayed on college campuses.

She believes social media, which has helped fuel the voice of student activists across the nation, played a crucial role in establishing the first White House task force addressing sexual assault on college campuses.

"A huge part of activism historically has been consciousness raising, and social media allows for a different kind of consciousness raising," she says. "It's just further reaching, and those pieces have a huge impact on the way people understand the issue."

Another piece of Linder's research focuses on racism and white privilege. She has studied the latter as it relates to college campuses and is also interested in the way perpetrators of sexual violence are represented by the media. Linder says a long history of racism in sexual violence-related movements contributes to fewer white men named as perpetrators of sexual violence and more men of color, especially student athletes.

Linder's research on race and equity suggests that students of color are particularly susceptible to micro-aggression from well-intended people. "Racism doesn't just happen when there's a Confederate flag hanging outside a building," Linder says. "Racism happens when a well-intentioned person continues to marginalize a student of color by asking them to speak for their whole race."

This issue ties into an overarching theme of Linder's work: The importance of having a supportive community when raising awareness of sexual assault. Social media and the changing roles of traditionally underrepresented populations are altering the dynamic of campuses across the country, she says. And with the right knowledge, institutions can make changes for the better.