President of Lincoln University Slut-Shames Black Women, Incriminates Black Men, Asks for Silence Around Rape

The president of Lincoln University, an HBCU (and incidentally my grandfather’s alma mater), has managed not only to stick his foot in his mouth, but swallow the whole damn thing. The university is co-ed, but holds separate (but equal?) All Women’s and All Men’s convocations for incoming students. During the most recent All Women’s Convocation, President Robert R. Jennings suggested that women should not report incidents of rape for fear of ruining another Black man’s life by sending him to prison. While it is true that Black men are disproportionately thrown in jail for sex crimes (all crimes, actually) compared to white men, this does not negate the fact that an act of sexual violence against any woman should be more of a concern than the reputation of the rapist. Not only did Jennings slut-shame an entire class of women, he unwittingly promoted the dangerous stereotype that Black men are inherently sexual predators. If Jennings is concerned about mass incarceration, he could have taken this opportunity to encourage students to develop preventative, community-based solutions to a culture of rape and silence instead of insulting and incriminating his entire student body.

The speech, which was recorded by a student in the audience, features these turds of wisdom:

Now let me let you in on a little secret. Men treat you, treat women, the way women allow us to treat them. And let me let you in on another little secret. We will use you up if you allow us to use you up. Well guess what? When it comes time for us to make that final decision, we’re going to go down the hall and marry that girl with the long dress on. That’s the one we’re going to take home to mom. Because there’s something about the way you carry yourself and respect yourself that commands and demands respect from us.

First of all, the fact that men are often toxic to women is no “little secret,” so we can expect from the jump that this speech is going to be patronizing as hell. Second of all, the implication that the men at Lincoln University are unable to contain themselves around a woman in a short skirt is just patently absurd. If Jennings really believes this to be true, it is his responsibility to change that attitude toward women, not to hide women under long dresses. These women command respect because they’re at college to get an education, not to find Prince Charming. Jennings should be ashamed to frame his university as a matchmaking camp rather than an educational institution. And can we talk about the whole idea of “using a person up” as though they’ve only got so much sex juice in them? As though if they waste all their sex juice on the wrong men they will be dried up and useless by the time they matriculate? But wait, there’s more:

The other thing I want to tell you about brothers is that we will lead you to believe that you’re the best thing since sliced bread. But we’re slicing your bread and somebody else’s bread, too… if you allow us to do that. We’ll give you our rap; it’ll be the best thing you’ve ever heard, and come the next day, we’ll act like we don’t even know you. Am I right about it? You know I’m right about it.

So not only are the men of Lincoln University incapable of taming their libidos, but they’re also unfaithful liars. Looks to me like Lincoln U is producing hordes of intelligent and respectful scholars! Please, Mr. Jennings, do go on:

And let me tell you how I know I’m right about it. I’m right about it because we have had on this campus, three cases of young women, who after having done whatever they did with the young men, and then it didn’t turn out the way they wanted it to turn out, guess what they did? They then went to Public Safety and said, ‘He raped me.’ So then we have to do an investigation. We have to start pulling back all the layers and asking all kinds of questions… And within the last 30 days, the United States federal government has now issued a new set of regulations that deal with sexual misconduct on colleges and university campuses. And the penalty is jail time… Their whole life changes over night. Because they’re gonna get a record and that record is then gonna follow them for the rest of their life. They’re going to be expelled from the university. It’s gonna be very difficult for them to get into anyone else’s university because they have to explain at the receiving institution why they were expelled from the institution that they were expelled from.

President Jennings references just three women who reported an instance of rape. Given that the estimated percentage of attempted or completed rapes against women over the course of their college career is 20-25%, and there are approximately 958 women on Lincoln University campus, even a conservative estimate puts the number of attempted or completed rapes at 191 women. One could argue that this is not necessarily an accurate portrayal of every college in the US, but given the culture of rape apology at Lincoln University, I’m willing to bet that the number is high. Not to mention the fact that Black women are already less likely to report rape. According to the Department of Justice, for every Black woman who reports a rape, fifteen Black women do not (compared to a 1-5 ratio for white women). Keep in mind that Black women and women of mixed race are sexually assaulted at staggeringly higher rates than whites. At a university where literally every women is either Black or mixed race, those three women were just a drop in the bucket compared to what likely goes on under his guidance. To tell those women that their assaults were the cause of their attire or behavior is simply disgusting. But, just in case you haven’t had enough bigotry today, here’s how Jennings decided to end his tirade:

Why am I saying all of this, ladies? I’m saying this first and foremost, don’t put yourself in a situation that would cause you to be trying to explain something that really needs no explanation had you not put yourself in that situation.

In short: Don’t get yourself raped. If you do, definitely don’t tell anybody.

Recently, the Internet went up in flames over the racist implications of a certain viral video surrounding catcalling. Here at Autostraddle, we tried to remind you of what legal recourse you have should you experience street harassment, making sure to highlight the dangers of involving the police in incriminating Black men for non-violent offenses. Because laws against street harassment (a non-violent offense, just like the sale of drugs, another crime for which Black men are disproportionately jailed), would undoubtedly be used more often to incriminate Black men, we hope to deal with street harassment by changing behavior. When it comes to street harassment, we don’t necessarily want to get police involved, but when the suggestion of sexual violence becomes an act of sexual violence, telling women they have no recourse is doing nothing to solve a problem.

President Jennings claims to be concerned about incriminating Black men even as he incriminates them right before his audience, calling them impulsive sexual predators. Rape is a violent crime. Those of us committed to prison reform would like to begin reducing the prison population by decriminalizing non-violent offenses. Even those of us who would like to see prisons abolished entirely understand the need for rehabilitation and forms of punishment for heinous crimes like rape and murder. The option presented by Jennings is absolute silence: in front of an audience of scholars, among them probably activists and advocates against racism, who have the tools to address campus assault without contributing to the prison industrial complex. Instead of galvanizing students to create community solutions to ending a culture of rape, Jennings encourages it to happen, and suggests we turn the other cheek.

Racism and sexism are not mutually exclusive offenses, as one respondent to the viral video, Brittany Cooper, made clear on MSNBC when she said that she is “tired of men, particularly men of color, using racism as an excuse for sexism,” echoing the words of bell hooks:

Black leaders, male and female, have been unwilling to acknowledge black male sexist oppression of black women because they do not want to acknowledge that racism is not the only oppressive force in our lives. Nor do they wish to complicate efforts to resist racism by acknowledging that black men can be victimized by racism but at the same time act as sexist oppressors of black women.

There are ways for people of color to address sexism within their communities without sacrificing the fight against racism. A grassroots approach to community building is actually the perfect opportunity to do this. At Dame Magazine, Kirsten West Savali points to the 1963 “Message to the Grassroots” given by Malcolm X as an example of the culture of silence designed to protect Black men from white bigotry:

Don’t let the enemy know that you got a disagreement. Instead of us airing our differences in public, we have to realize we’re all the same family. And when you have a family squabble, you don’t get out on the sidewalk. If you do, everybody calls you uncouth, unrefined, uncivilized, savage. If you don’t make it at home, you settle it at home; you get in the closet — argue it out behind closed doors. And then when you come out on the street, you pose a common front, a united front. And this is what we need to do in the community, and in the city, and in the state. We need to stop airing our differences in front of the White man.

This is the pervading mentality that puts the onus on Black women to protect Black men from incarceration, when in fact it should be a collective responsibility. An HBCU is the perfect breeding ground to cultivate intra-community solutions to ending rape culture within Black communities. Here, students can test-drive preventative grassroots community building tactics to educate and change rape culture on campus, and then bring them back home to act out in “the real world.” Of course, when it comes to assault, campus is just as real as the real world, and women must feel safe enough to talk about their assault if and when it does happen. Telling women to take precautions against the possibility of sexual assault is not necessarily misguided, so long as we are also teaching men not to be rapists. A culture of silence is no solution at all.

Hannah Hodson is a 22-year old Brooklyn-bred writer and actor. She graduated Hampshire College with a very valuable BA in Theatre and Black Studies. She currently resides in DUMBO, Brooklyn, where she admires the view while writing poetry about gentrification, climate change, race, class and other heavy stuff, but tries to keep a positive outlook on it all. She recently met Abbi and Ilana from Broad City (IRL), and has photos to prove it. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter, for her thoughts on Beyonce.

Hannah has written 37 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. After the sexual harassment video that went viral I had to have some difficult conversations with my younger brother who is at a point of listening to the intersectional aspects of racism (that he deals with as a black man) and male privilege. I’m his older sister and I was talking to him about the implications of the video and he said something that stopped me in my tracks.

    “Funny the people who had compelling arguments against the video because it vilifies black and latino men were mostly black women. I have never read or seen black and latino men do that for women.”(something like that anyway)

    I’m like “oh he gets it !!!*cries feminist tears of joy*” but it was sobering because not only he saw that pattern, I then tried to relate it to the fact in fighting racism especially during the civil rights, black women literally held down the fort, with arranging the church meetings, cooking and support on all level imaginable but the men were the spokespeople.

    It was really hard conversation because I felt the pain in his voice when he told me the instances of racism he had to deal with as a black man. I cried a couple of times because some were horrible and I’m imagining a drooling power ranger obsessed little boy, now a man. The privileges we both grew up on (him more so), he is starting to see the walls and ceilings that given his privileges are not enough to move freely as he thought he could. I shared the same sentiments with what I’m dealing with now and it is hard.

    I explained to him my experiences about street harassment and rape culture and it was hard because I’m his older sister, bad ass who threw small pieces of furniture at spiders that he was scared to kill he was little. The sister who bravely came out (he was so proud of me). I had to tell him how scared for my life I was in those moments when random men would follow me and say disgusting things even touch me without my consent.

    Oh I’m tearing up…

    He was like, “holy shit!” and I think, well I hope I made another black man really examine and see the ramifications of racism and male privilege on black women that are his sisters and mother.

    This is not easy to talk about but we have to and this silence about rape in HBCUs that are suppose to help foster growth for black people is not helping the cause dammit!

    • Thank you for sharing this, it’s making me tear up a little.

      I have an older brother, and as a younger sis it’s been so hard to share these things with him. I haven’t even come out to him yet.
      But I’ve seen him change a lot in the past years from a dude who hung out on Reddit too much and said “we don’t really need feminism anymore” … to someone who would actually vilifies gross behavior towards women and stands up for women. I think marrying a woman from Morocco and understanding how hard she had it compared to her own brother helped him gain some perspective.

      Anyway you sound like an awesome sister and your brother sounds awesome too <3

  2. Hi! Great article, and it’s scandalous any president of any uni would dare give such a speech. And the fact that no one is talking about it is just scandalous (searched President Jennings name in google, zero articles about this speech).

    However I’d just like to point out that the use of the Malcolm X quote is rather innappropriate. He’s not talking about protecting black men from accusations of rape (although using his logic, one COULD argue “why ask black women to trust a judiciary institution that was built to oppress them ?” which isn’t an invalid argument : we need to work on our communities, but we also need to fight racist and sexist institutions, that can only progress so far with reform).
    He’s talking about what would be called in leninist terms “demcratic centralism”. It’s the principle that states “freedom in discussion, unity in action”. His point is : we need to recognize a common enemy (capitalism or the white man, same thing really). We need to encourage diversity of thought and debate inside our political structures, but these must be subordinate to democracy – which includes free discussion, but more importantly that relies on the majority deciding which ideology to promote, what action to take and the whole group remaining united to support these decisions.
    This is necessary so as to avoid dividing strong groups over small disagreements and to avoid power games (individuals trying to gain personal influence however damaging that would be to the collective). It’s not an ideological point (like black men should not be held responsible for rape bc of racism or whatevs) it’s basically practical thinking (keeping the collective alive bc that’s the only way the oppressed have any chance of winning over the dominant group).

    • I think you’re right! But I don’t think I implied that Malcolm X was speaking directly to sexual harrassment or rape culture. Sometimes protecting the collective means distrusting the oppressor (white America, the police, the justice system). When women within said collective don’t have any other avenues to air their grievances (because the patriarchy exists within the collective as well), they are left voiceless. This is not to say that Malcolm X didn’t have revolutionary ideas about black empowerment, but they were often focused on “manhood.” Sometimes revolutionary ideas have unfortunate side effects. In this case, prioritizing the empowerment of the collective can lead to the further disenfranchisement of women. Even if he wasn’t talking about rape in particular, the ideology is pervasive enough to cause women to think rape falls under the category of “dirty laundry” that shouldn’t be aired.

  3. I got two brothers and I can tell you first hand how much I love this coddling of black men that is so encouraged in the community, for various reasons including racism and the females that so often end up being the only ones to raise them. Aw, they’re disenfwanchised so never hold them accountable for anything awww! Cuz we all know THATS how the west was won.

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