Their pride is my shame: The UConn “rape trail”
Today, as I caught up on my feed on Facebook during my lunch break, I noticed a video being shared by my UConn friends, a hint that something was going viral at my alma mater. Here is the 3:37 video:
The video is from a concert on Monday featuring electronic-dubstep duo Timeflies at UConn. Vocalist Cal Shapiro raps for almost four minutes over a remix of Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” about things that are recognizable to a broad UConn audience. The rap itself shows that Shapiro did an impressive amount of research for just one gig (judging by the paper in his hand, he didn’t have a tremendous amount of time to learn it), or the rap was ghostwritten by a student who could probably be the third member of the group.
Either way, I was unable to enjoy the video beyond the 12 second mark. Shapiro mentions the “rape trail,” to the delight of the crowd. The reference draws louder cheers than Emeka Okafor, star of the National Championship-winning 2003-04 men’s basketball team and an honors student who graduated in three years with a 3.8 GPA, does at the 2:25 mark.
The “rape trail,” as it’s known, is a path through forested woods which connects the dormitories on UConn’s Storrs campus to apartments off campus, where underage drinking and partying is (or was, before a police crackdown) the norm when the weather was nice. Although I’ve never measured, I’d estimate the trail is about a mile long. Because the trail is primarily used by students looking for something to do at night, it is ordinarily accessed by students when it is dark out. There are no alternate routes from the trail; once you’re on it, you have only two exits, which are from where you came and where you’re going. You are surrounded by trees. If someone were to hide in the woods, he or she would have a very easy time doing it.
The otherwise nameless trail is colloquially known as “the rape trail,” which makes me uncomfortable. If a sexual assault happened in a dorm building, the building would not become known as “Rape Hall.” My theory as to why is that students are assigned to live in dorms, and almost everybody would agree that a student has the basic right to live in and sleep in the room she pays to live in. The “rape trail,” however, is not a path that must be walked, except for students who live in the apartments but walk to class, although walking the trail during the daytime makes it less creepy (although 33 percent of all reported rapes take place between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., and approximately 66 percent are committed by someone known to the victim, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). As such, the name exists because of victim-blaming tactics. What should a college-aged student expect if she is walking on the “rape trail” at night, especially if she’s dressed for a party? The name does not exist as a warning, and if it did, it still implies any victim of sexual assault on the “rape trail” is at fault for being there in the first place.
If students were truly concerned about the possibility of rapists hiding behind the trees, there would not be cheers. There would be dead silence. Instead, the “rape trail” has been embraced as part of UConn’s culture, a jokey reference to the things that make us Huskies. Sexual assaults have occurred on the trail. This is something students vocally supported by cheering.
The verse was supposedly performed in good humor, but I wonder when we, as UConn students and alumni, began to view sexual assault as a punchline, and not as a serious problem.
For more information about sexual assault, go to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network’s website.