Every year the hall council of each residence hall issues T-shirts in an effort to build community. The shirts often attempt to either cleverly insult different residence halls or feature witty or risqué sayings. While the shirts have included sexual innuendos in the past, South Quad’s T-shirt crossed the line this year by referencing the sexually aggressive Soulja Boy song “Crank That.” The front of the shirt is emblazoned with the Superman logo, and the back reads “Superman that .” referencing the song’s chorus of “Superman that ho.”
While the word “ho” is not included on the shirt itself, the line is still sexually explicit both in its reference and its meaning. According to the popular slang website urbandictionary.com, the verb “superman” has the following definition: “When you are mad at your girl for not having sex with you. So when she falls asleep you masturbate and cum on her back. After that, stick the bed sheet on to her back and when she wakes up it’s stuck to the cum and she has a cape like Superman!!!”
The act of “supermaning” is not simply a sexual reference in a popular song, but rather a highly gendered act of sexual aggression and punishment. Though I recognize that it was not the intention of the South Quad Hall Council to propagate sexual violence, the council made an irresponsible decision that undermines the safe environment the University promises students in the residence halls. While the phrase may seem like an innocent or cheeky joke, it is distasteful and offensive, particularly to women in its portrayal of masculine dominance. What lies at the root of the song is a message that belittles women and ignores their right to choose when or when not to have sex. Such a message, even with innocent intent, trivializes the problem of sexual violence by treating it as a joke.
The South Quad Hall Council used students’ money to finance the dorm T-shirts that many residents now refuse to purchase. Housing shirts serve to represent the entire community, and this community should not be represented with a statement that is both generally offensive and specifically demeaning to women.
Months after the T-shirts were first sold, the South Quad Hall Council issued an apology “to those who feel offended or insulted,” but this in no way took responsibility or acknowledged wrongful behavior on the council’s part. This is not just about “feeling” insulted but about the real insult committed by the hall council and the mass production of a slogan that explicitly references sexual violence. It was the council’s mistake and lack of forethought that created the problem, not those who were offended.
While the residence hall’s “Hip Hop, Gender, and the Politics of Language” forum hosted by the South Quad Hall Council on Feb. 11 addressed the issue, the event was marketed as an educational opportunity specifically for residents. The council members responsible for the slogan’s use were not in attendance, and the group’s treatment of the issue again failed to admit fault on the part of the council. It is not just the residents who need education about issues of sexual violence but also the council members.
Thus, I would ask the members of the South Quad Hall Council to make a continued commitment to educate themselves about the issue of sexual violence. The responsibility given to hall council members as leaders of the community and controllers of dorm funds should match the responsibility expected of them. At the very least, the hall council members responsible must admit fault and be accountable for violating the dorm’s safe environment, the maintenance of which is purportedly their jobs.
The shirts are no longer being sold to students and staff. However, South Quad should provide alternative T-shirts without the offensive slogan so that all students can be equally comfortable representing their residence hall.
-Katie Hendricks is an LSA sophomore. She is a member of the F-Word.