Sharing her scholarly perspective and personal reflections from an extensive career as a national expert on sexual violence, Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dartmouth College Dr. Susan Brison joined the President’s Forum Series at Hobart and William Smith Colleges as guest speaker and campus guest this week. Held on Tuesday, Dec. 9, Brison’s talk, “Ending Rape Culture: A Survivor’s Perspective,” drew a standing-room-only crowd in the Vandervort Room of the Scandling Campus Center.
In addition to her President’s Forum talk, Brison’s campus visit included a guest appearance on WXXI’s Rochester, N.Y., radio program, “Connections with Evan Dawson;” joining a classroom dialogue with students in Assistant Professor of Philosophy Karen Frost-Arnold’s WMST 100, “Introduction to Women’s Studies” course; and meeting with the HWS Sexual Violence Taskforce, which recommended that Brison visit the Colleges.
“I am particularly grateful to so many of our students and faculty colleagues who are here for what is an important talk and an important moment for the institution,” said Mark D. Gearan during his opening remarks at the forum. “We are joined tonight by a very distinguished scholar on the issues of sexual violence and rape culture – a Dartmouth faculty member and a significant national thought partner who is here to expand our campus conversation.”
During her talk, Brison addressed a range of current issues about gender-based violence, as well as aspects of her own account of recovery and philosophical exploration of trauma shared in her book, “Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self,” a work called a “wise and extremely moving reflection” by The Nation. She also read her widely noted article, “Why I Spoke Out About One Rape but Stayed Silent About Another,” which was published this December in TIME magazine.
“Viewing individual acts of violence against women as part of a much larger phenomenon of gender-based injustice might seem to hold the danger of overwhelming and demoralizing us, but as depressing as it is to talk about violence against women, I find it ultimately encouraging to conceptualize it and to bear witness to it as culturally induced gender-based violence, since doing so enables us to envision and work towards eliminating it,” Brison said. “If it’s not a fact of nature and hardwired into our genes or coming out of nowhere like a natural disaster, it’s something we can, and must, work hard to eliminate.”
A nationally known scholar who has brought greater philosophical attention to the topics of rape, domestic violence, hate speech and pornography through her many articles and lectures, Brison’s campus visit coincides with the ongoing efforts at the Colleges to enhance a culture of respect and foster positive change.
At Convocation in September, President Mark D. Gearan introduced the Culture of Respect initiative and recently announced the accompanying steering committee co-chaired by Professor Emeritus of Economics Pat McGuire L.H.D.’12 and Mara O’Laughlin ’66, L.H.D.’13. The committee is focusing on five key areas: safety and wellness, campus facilities, history and heritage, dialogue across differences and the curriculum.
“I really want to applaud this Culture of Respect initiative that’s taking place at Hobart and William Smith, and I’m looking forward to learning more about that,” Brison said. “I think that’s exactly the right way to approach this issue. There is a huge need for respect – a huge need for empathy with others.”
Following the President’s Form talk, a question-and-answer session was held in which Brison addressed questions ranging from how men can be allies, alcohol abuse on college campuses and how the media is covering the issue of sexual assault and violence against women.
A prominent voice in the anti-rape movement for nearly 25 years, Brison has raised public awareness of gender-based violence through international talks, radio and television interviews, and articles in The Guardian, The San Francisco Chronicle, and other newspapers, magazines, and blogs. At Dartmouth, Brison also teaches in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.
Brison, who has been a member of the Dartmouth faculty since 1985, also has held visiting positions at Tufts University, New York University, and Princeton University. She has been a Mellon Fellow at New York University and is a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.
Brison is the co-editor of Contemporary Perspectives on Constitutional Interpretation (Westview, 1993. She holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in philosophy from the University of Toronto and a B.A. in philosophy from the University of California at Santa Cruz.
The President’s Forum Series, established in the winter of 2000 by President Mark D. Gearan, is designed to bring a variety of speakers to campus to share their knowledge and ideas with students, faculty and staff of the Colleges, as well as with interested community members. The most recent guests of the series were political strategists Mary Matalin P’17 and James Carville L.H.D. ’13, P’17.