Our commitment to all forms of diversity
This week was a tumultuous, eventful week on campus. The dialogue on sexual assault spurred by Civil Discourse posts and recent events emphasizes a current void at Colby. Student grievances are numerous: Why are more cases of sexual assaults not being formally reported? What does that process entail? What services are available for students who are or have been victims of sexual misconduct? Why is the administration not acknowledging this important issue?
These grievances are valid and need to be addressed. The administration planned an open campus forum to confront these issues in the short term, but these issues stem from structural problems that need long-term solutions. For these reasons, and many others, there is a current committee of students (myself included), faculty and administrators that are outlining a plan for the “Gender and Sexual Diversity Resource Program” (GSDR) to be implemented next year.
As your SGA co-presidents, Justin and I have made the GSDR Program one of our priorities for the year. Despite strong support from some sectors of our community, there seems to be a large part of the student body that is cautiously in favor, apathetic or not well-informed enough to make a decision about the GSDR Program. It is to you that I am writing this op-ed in order to clarify and expand on what a GSDR program would look like and the reasons why students should support it.
As developed by the committee, the mission of Colby’s Gender and Sexual Diversity Program is to “provide education, support and advocacy that encourage positive experiences with respect to gender and sexuality, that address issues of sexism, homophobia, sexual harassment and assault, and other forms of physical and psychological violence based on gender and/or sexuality, and that consider the relationship among gender, sexuality and other issues and concerns on campus.” The program requires a full-time staff director and a central and accessible space that would provide room for both confidential one-on-one and group meetings.
But doesn’t Colby already provide services such as counseling, health services and advising deans, and aren’t student leaders in clubs such as the Bridge, Feminist Alliance, and MAAV already dealing with these issues? First of all, Colby does offer many support services, but the fact that students frequently cite that the do not where or to whom to turn is a fundamental, structural problem. The director would coordinate the resources available and help students access what they need.
As for student clubs, students who are passionate about gender and sexuality issues should enjoy the freedom to program and talk about these issues. It is not their responsibility to a) be the sole educators or b) provide counseling services. Far too often our student leaders are burdened with these responsibilities. Health and well-being issues must be addressed by trained professionals in a systematic way, not by compassionate students.
For me, the single most compelling reason why we need a GSDR program lies in the evidence of underreporting of sexual harassment and assault cases. In Heather Pratt’s thesis last year (accessible on the SGA website), she interviewed 11 students who were victims of sexual assault at Colby. Of the 11, only three reported. Two of the three that reported state that they could do it again, they would not have reported. The one student who reported and was glad she reported was a case that Heather served as an advocate for and educated the girl on the processes and procedures.
The GSDR director serves as this advocate and support students in the reporting process. This is fundamentally important in order to encourage students to fight back against sexual misconduct and to help Colby eradicate this current silent problem on campus.
Check out the SGA website (http://web.colby.edu/sga) for more information on the development of the GSD Program. And as always, please email me at email@example.com, or Justin at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any comments, questions or concerns. Thanks for the constructive dialogue this week on gender and sexual assault issues on campus, and we look forward in finding a permanent, institutionalized and effective mechanism to systematically address, confront and make progress on gender and sexual diversity issues here at Colby.