Disrupting And Transforming Norms: Harmful Campus Traditions

Traditions (by their very nature!) are often deep-rooted and difficult to dislodge. Add on the constant churn of students graduating and moving on, and it becomes even more difficult to create lasting change. A harmful status quo can continue for decades or longer without interruption. How can you make a difference in the face of years of tradition? This will get you started!

(If you need a refresher on campus traditions, you can start here.)

Know Your Tradition

The better you understand why a tradition exists, the more effectively you can disrupt it. Focusing on the norms behind traditions increases the chance of lasting culture change, and will help your campus see how its traditions are connected to gender-based violence.

Answer the following for your school and the tradition you want to disrupt:

  • What harmful gender norms and practices does the tradition promote?
  • Who started the tradition, and who is driving the tradition on campus now? Has it changed from what it once was?
  • How do different campus communities feel about this tradition?
  • Who might be an obstacle to your action and who might be a partner or ally? Is there a history of challenging or questioning this tradition?
  • What are the explicit or implied motivations for the tradition? For those who drive it and those who participate?

Have a brilliant idea

This is the hard part–but hopefully the fun part, too. Your aim is disruption. Not intervention, or interruption, but achieving long-term significant change of the harmful aspects of a tradition. Your action is going to need to show the tradition for what it is, and leave no doubt about the harms it causes. It needs to change the culture on your campus, even after you leave.

Thinking outside the box is encouraged!

Get creative. Get really creative. Rape-culture promoting banners flying on campus? Cover them with hundreds and hundreds of post-its that read “no means no” “or rape not permitted here.” Or make a big banner. No, a really big banner. Sew together a dozen bed sheets and create a banner calling out rape culture on campus. Themed parties creating dangerous environments on campus? Create Facebook events for the parties “fixing” the language to be more accurate and share it campus-wide.  

Use what you have and what you know

You’ve already got skills and access that will help you achieve disruption. If you’re studying digital marketing, you can launch an online campaign. Performing arts major? Get creative with a song, a sketch, or an anti-rape marching band flash mob. Athletes you can get their teammates involved, and Greeks get your chapter on board to do something big. Or if you’re in student government, use those connections to get the administration involved!

Think big

Permanent change can’t happen with just you and your friends. Of course, “big” is relative. Can you get a quarter of the student body involved, a third, or even half? How can you get media coverage? What about a local or national celebrity alum?

Make It Stick

The key to disrupting rather than just interrupting is setting the right benchmarks for success. It could be ending the tradition on campus. It could be removing or tweaking the harmful aspects. Maybe your goal is to create enough awareness that everyone sees the tradition for the harms it creates so that broader circles of students get involved to shut it down or transform it. You could even create a new tradition through your disruptive action–something so exciting that your campus will want to give it a life of its own.

If you’ve got an idea to disrupt a campus tradition but need some help building a plan, or could could use a brainstorming partner, we’re happy to help! Send us an email at campus@breakthrough.tv.