Editorial: To change name of ‘rape trail,’ students – not administrators – must act
Published: Sunday, February 16, 2014
Updated: Sunday, February 16, 2014 22:02
In an email sent to all students on Feb. 7, UConn president Susan Herbst outlined the recommendations of her Task Force on Civility and Campus Culture. One of the recommendations which Herbst plans to implement concerns the path to Celeron Apartments, nicknamed the “rape trail.” The report called for “a student-led effort to change the odious ‘nickname’ that is occasionally used to describe the Celeron Path.”
There are two important parts to this sentence. First, the “rape trail” nickname is inappropriate and must be discontinued. Second, the effort to do so must come from the students who currently use the nickname. Any attempts from administrators to legislate language from the top down will fail.
The Celeron Path is perceived as a hotspot for sexual assault, in part due to the nickname. The task force report called these perceptions “unfounded,” although some would disagree. It is also possible that the nickname is a cause of the rape associated with the trail, rather than just an effect of it. Regardless of how real the perceptions are, the nickname creates an association with rape culture. The task force was correct to call for its elimination.
However, it is important to remember that terms change when people stop using them, not because some committee declares them to no longer exist. This is true on scales as small as a community to as large as the entire world. Even UConn has seen examples of how an official name change is not enough to get people to stop using the term.
Many seniors can remember when most people referred to Connecticut Commons as “the Grad Dorms” even though they were not known by that name at any point during their time here. When members of the class of 2014 were freshmen, most upperclassmen knew the dorms by their old nickname and continued to use it even though it was incorrect. The fact that it was no longer officially in use made no difference. Eventually, new classes of students came in who only knew the dorms by their current name. Now, almost everyone uses that.
Such refusal to accept top-down language legislation can occur at far larger levels. The French National Assembly is legally responsible for legislating terms in the French language to avoid “Franglais,” or the mixing of English and French terms. However, these attempts have been largely unsuccessful. In 1994, the National Assembly declared the term “le brainstorming” was no longer acceptable. Instead, the only correct term would be “le remue-meninges,” which literally means “movement of the meninges.” Two decades later, most people still use “le brainstorming.” Simply put, top-down language legislation does not work at any level, big or small.
We strongly agree with the task force that the term “rape trail” is inappropriate, and we join Susan Herbst in calling for its use to be discontinued. However, we feel that the rest of the recommendation is equally important – the change must come from students, not administrators.