Roderick Cook, who is a (wait for it!) gender, sexuality and women’s studies major at the University of Pennsylvania, says in a Daily Pennsylvanian op-ed that we need to “rethink” the very term violence.
People need to look beyond individual acts of violence, he writes, and consider the role of the larger societal paradigm — such as … the university.
(Warning: prepare yourself for a certain amount of cranium scratching.)
Many of us think of interpersonal physical violence that occurs around our school, such as gun violence and theft. Others think about the forms of violence Penn students commit against one another, such as physical altercations and sexual assault. While these things, along with a variety of other person-to-person acts, certainly constitute violence and are forms of real harm, they do not paint a complete picture of violence at Penn. These individual moments of violence are symptoms of much larger violent systems that Penn has a stake in.
We must constantly bring ourselves to stop and consider what structural forms of violence are behind those interpersonal acts described above. When we get a UPennAlert notification about a robbery on or near campus, we must stop and consider what role Penn itself may have played in that situation. We must move beyond calling the act of robbing a store or taking someone’s money “violent.” We must also use this term to refer to Penn’s role in the gentrification of West Philadelphia through the expansion of our university, which forces families out of their homes and perpetuates intergenerational poverty. Poverty combines with systematic racism, leading people to commit these crimes of survival.
There you have it. Don’t (totally) blame that “historically oppressed” individual who has robbed someone or some business (typically at gun or knife-point) because you need to consider how society has forced this person into his/her current predicament.
Cook goes on to make the same argument about “systematic misogyny,” and states that anyone who pays tuition to Penn is “complicit” because the school does business with companies that perpetuate it. (Cook doesn’t name any of the companies who supposedly engage in this “devaluing of women,” however.)
Lastly, marvel at Cook’s exquisite academic bubble-logic in the conclusion:
We must not only recognize a punch in the face as violent, but also the racist remarks that sparked the altercation, which work to uphold hundreds of years of white supremacy.
Instead of being scared to walk west of campus for fear of “violence,” we must repurpose that word to describe our own prejudices and the often racist ways that we characterize residents of Philadelphia who aren’t students.
Those who are quick to call rocket launches from Gaza “violent” must also work to understand the violence of displacement and decades of settler colonialism, restricted movement and denial of resources.
Leaving aside the farcical historical ignorance of the last point, based on this (and intertwined with Cook’s previous arguments), what should then be most distressing to Penn students — and by extrapolation, all college attendees — is that the very institutions which supposedly serve the interests of the “marginalized” perhaps better than any other … are sustaining this cycle of violence of which Cook speaks.
Get out now, students!
Dave Huber is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@ColossusRhodey)
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