Speaking out against assault
Students, faculty and administrators gathered on Tuesday November 15 for a community forum addressing the issue sexual assault on campus.
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Students and faculty filled Page Commons on Tuesday, Nov. 15, to participate in an open community forum to discuss sexual assault on campus. An Official Notice from Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students James Terhune stated that the specific purpose of this forum was to answer questions concerning “how Colby deals with sexual misconduct.”
Terhune opened the event expressing the hope that the discussion to follow would help to ascertain “how we can move forward as a community in a better way,” with this event as “a first conversation, not the only conversation,” he said. The forum, moderated by Assistant Professor of American Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Lisa Arellano and Associate Professor of Education Adam Howard, centered on identifying the primary questions and concerns of students and faculty on sexual assault and campus culture.
Arellano and Howard established the structure of the forum for the attendees. Some pre-formed questions were projected on a screen at the front of the auditorium concerning the procedure for reporting incidents of assault and the administration’s investigative and penalization procedures. Howard and Arellano laid down some ground rules for the night. They explained that the forum was not meant for the discussion of specific cases and allegations of assault and that there would be some topics that administrators at the event would not be able to address. They then proceeded to solicit questions from those present, which SGA Co-President Laura Maloney ’12 and Male Athletes Against Violence (MAAV) President Eric Barthold ’12 added to the list of pre-formed questions on the screen.
Some key questions raised by students included clarifying why the terminology used by the College in the student handbook and administrative procedures refers to “sexual misconduct” rather than “sexual assault”; does the College’s current policy for addressing sexual assault work and how can it be improved; how can the College recognize that sexual assault happens regardless of reporting statistics; how can we better teach enthusiastic consent; and how do we engage the entire community in these important conversations?
After compiling over 35 questions, some faculty members addressed the procedural concerns. Director of Counseling Services Patty Newmen addressed the reporting procedure, noting that students can report to the nurses and counselors at the Health Center, who are required to keep their session confidential. Health Center staff will also accompany students to the hospital and help them contact the deans or the Waterville Police if the student desires.
Newmen also noted that a Health Center counselor is on-call 24 hours and can be reached through Security at any time. If a student calls Security for the counselor on-call, he or she will be asked if there is a physical injury that needs to be addressed. However, Security will not force a student to reveal his or her reason for seeking counseling. Faculty members also expressed that they welcome students to bring their concerns to a professor with whom they feel comfortable.
Senior Associate Dean of Students Paul Johnston then spoke to the administration’s procedure for investigating allegations of sexual assault and penalizing the assailant. A student, Johnston said, retains the right to go directly to the police with allegations of sexual assault. Should the student choose not to include the police and press charges, he or she can instigate an administrative investigation. By means of a misconduct hearing, administrators may judge the verity of the allegation and assign varying levels of punishment that range from an on-campus restraining order, to asking the perpetrator to leave campus until the victim graduates, to expulsion.
After these two addresses from Newmen and Johnston, the forum shifted to a more open style. The questions previously compiled on the list were not systematically addressed one by one, but rather laid the framework for the sort of points those in attendance wished to address. With the floor open for discussion, some attendees addressed comments or questions to the audience as a whole, and others called out specific groups or administrators to respond to specific concerns.
First, students suggested some measures for how the College could improve the prominence and availability of resources and education on sexual assault—both how to deal with the issue when it happens and how to prevent it. Some suggestions included making procedural information readily available online, altering the wellness seminar program to address issues more relevant to campus such as sexual assault and possibly extending some form of the program beyond first-years. Students were also enthusiastic about working to establish a Gender and Sexual Diversity Resource Center, a plan that is already underway.
The conversation highlighted how students can hold each other accountable as peers and individuals and how student groups and student leaders can set examples and lead the conversation. One student question asked why members of the College community can’t just all respect one another. “We all need to remember that we share this space,” Tom Letourneau ’13 said, remarking on each student’s right to respect and privacy in their collective home.
One faculty member noted that “peer pressure and social pressure never go away,” and that the question everyone should ask of themselves is, “Do I have the courage to do what I think is right?” she said, addressing the difficulty of calling out one’s peers. John Kalin ’14, a member of MAAV, said, “In MAAV we preach a lot about the language we use.” Kalin acknowledged that students must be aware that using terms like “pussy” and “slut” makes them complicit in a culture of violence and sexism.
Comments also looked to how administrators can start these conversations and firmly set down the College’s community standards and uphold them. Diana Sunder ’13 asked why a notice can’t be sent out that does not violate privacy yet still alerts the community that an incident has been reported and that violence of any kind on campus will not be tolerated. Another student commented, “It would be nice to see from the top [of the administration] that these things will not be tolerated on our campus.” To this, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Lori Kletzer came forward and said, “you have my absolute commitment to be a part of this conversation for as long as need be.”
Another student brought up the positive response of administrators at Bowdoin College and Williams College to events of violence on their campuses. Cosme Del Rosario-Bell ’12 asked what sort of incident would need to happen at the College “to warrant such a heartfelt response from a high level administrator” as the president of the College. Terhune said, “I can’t speak to Bowdoin’s policies because I am not informed about how things work there.”
Annie Chen ’12 remarked further that “it’s important that we’re not just discussing online [via theCommunity Digest of Civil Discourse or Official Notices] or in paper, but in person.” Other students echoed the suggestion to have a mandated community-wide meeting to get every student involved in the discussion. Hannah DeAngelis ’12 also spoke to continuing the conversation and our education in the context of classroom discussion by “bringing our lives into the classroom…that crossover is really important,” she said.
As the forum came to a close, Howard said, “There’s going to be more of these community gatherings.” Arellano took suggestions for the focus of the next discussion, which included athletics and campus culture, the Student Programming Board (SPB) and weekend culture, and consent and respect. The date of the next forum is not yet determined.