What’s In a Name?

Students Petition to Change the name of the “Rape Trail” to South Trail

Memorial Way, the forested trail beside Aldwyn Lane that connects South Campus to the train station near St. Thomas of Villanova, is one of the most used paths on Villanova’s campus, often to the convenience of students living on south campus to get to their classes on main campus. Because the path is rather dark and secluded at night, it has become unofficially known as the “Rape Trail” by most students, though none of such incidents have ever occurred on this trail. This unofficial name is used more often the trail’s actual name, mainly because there are no signs on the trail, nor is it labeled on the campus map. The use of this name has generated controversy among students and staff at Villanova, as it can be considered offensive and misguiding in regards to the trail itself and the issue of rape.

Villanova’s Girl Child Network (or GCNova for, short) is a student organization dedicated to protection of women from sexual assault on college campuses, and promoting rape awareness. The group also exists worldwide for other college campuses, and has set up camps in Africa for the assistance and health care of rape victims. In the past few weeks, the group has been collecting signatures for a petition aiming to indirectly get rid of the term “rape trail” by placing a sign overhead of Memorial Way, giving it the new name “South Campus Trail”. The term “Memorial Way” is not used that often today, likely because there is no actual memorial it leads to. By giving Memorial Way a more reasonable and obvious name, Villanova’s GCN hopes that students will use this name instead of the current name that abuses the word “rape”. The petition is expected to be presented to Father Donahue, urging him to approve of renaming the trail “South Campus Trail” and placing a sign above it to encourage using this term. The petition currently has 130 signatures.

It is often said that petitions are unnecessary, especially in this situation, where there is no predictable reason Father Donahue wouldn’t want to approve of it. When asked, student GCNova member Molly Sapia said of the petition, “Because it is such a sensitive issue, Father Donahue may be uncomfortable acknowledging the fact that everyone calls it The Rape Trail. This petition is here to prove that there are a large number of people who believe this is a visible moral issue. However, since Blue Key members are told not to use this name in front of parents when giving tours, it is evident that he is aware of it.”

Though some may argue that GCNova is making a mountain out of a molehill and trying too hard to be politically correct, there are some strong moral issues behind using the word “rape” inappropriately. “It’s a lot bigger a problem than people realize, not just because it’s uncomfortable to people walking the trail, but because the overuse of the word ‘rape’ trivializes the issue, and makes it too embarrassing for victims to report it. 95% of campus rapes go unreported, while murders almost always do. This is why the name of Memorial Way should not be turning one of the most heinous crimes into a joke.” In agreement, Villanova Communications Professor Shauna MacDonald says, “If communication constitutes our world, as many communication scholars claim, then the words we say do more than reflect our culture—they create our culture and our own positions within it. With that in mind, the words we use at Villanova—including a longstanding colloquial label like “rape trail”–create our culture, here. I think we can all agree that we want a culture in which we take sexual violence seriously, as a real and problematic act in our world. To create such a campus culture, we need to use our language responsibly.”


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