College announces sexual assault center

by Victoria Nelsen | 2/9/14 8:20pm

A new Center for Community Action and Prevention will centralize existing efforts to prevent sexual assault and violence, Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson announced Friday. Located on the third floor of Robinson Hall, where Dartmouth’s Sexual Abuse Awareness Program is currently housed, the center will facilitate preexisting programs such as Sexual Assault Peer Advisors, Mentors Against Violence and the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative.

Johnson appointed SAAP coordinator and co-developer of DBI Amanda Childress director of the center, which will open on July 1.

Childress said in an email that the new center aims to help the community intervene when necessary and ultimately prevent sexual assault and violence.

“The new center will be the focal point on campus for Dartmouth’s sexual assault and violence prevention initiatives,” she said. “It will also drive the College’s mobilization efforts around preventing sexual violence and increasing the safety and well-being of all members of our community.”

Sexual assault peer advisor Judy Li ’15 said the center has been in the works for some time and will centralize current programming for preventing sexual assault. She said that there has been a recent campus effort to increase communication and strengthen teamwork among programs addressing sexual assault, which are currently overseen by Childress and SAAP coordinator Rebekah Carrow.

The idea of a centralized center for violence prevention and resources came to prominence after a Student Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault symposium, held on Jan. 28, 2012, released recommendations for addressing the issue of sexual assault on campus to the administration. The symposium, attended by more than 100 students, faculty, administrators and staff, produced four specific recommendations for action, the first being a centralized center for violence prevention and resources.

The College has partially acted upon another SPCSA recommendation from the winter 2012 symposium, which advocated requiring first responder training for deans, faculty, community directors and athletic coaches, by offering an optional training program.

The committees’ other recommendations were to require perpetrators of sexual assault to complete an intensive continuing education program and the administration to release termly updates on initiatives addressing sexual assault.

The proposal for a violence prevention center was not brought to fruition in the months following the symposium, even after alumni offered to raise the necessary funds, theater professor Peter Hackett ’75 said. In an August 2013 interview, Johnson said alumni suggestions for a violence prevention center had not been acted upon because comprehensive services were already in place.

Li said that though the programs are already centralized in one location, a title will make them more visible and accessible. She said it is important that the College is making concrete decisions and prioritizing the issue, especially during the current Title IX investigation, launched by the Department of Education.

The new center makes Dartmouth “a leader in developing culture-changing strategies,” Childress said in the press release.

Hackett said that this statement of leadership feels disingenuous.

“I’m deeply disappointed in the attempt to position Dartmouth as a leader with the Center for Community Action and Prevention when at this very moment we’re being investigated by the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education,” Hackett said. “I don’t know how you can call yourself a leader when you’re being investigated.”

Hackett said that he hopes the center will address the Committee on Student Safety and Accountability’s recommendations, released last November, to collect data by surveying students, faculty and staff on how they experience the campus learning and work environment.

Many students said they had not heard about the center, and several expressed mixed reactions.

Nikol Oydanich ’17 said that the center would likely be more effective in providing resources than in preventing sexual assault. While she said that she believes the center is a good idea, she suggested that the new title was also important for the College’s image.

“It’s not quite necessary, but it shows that the College is involved and is aware of the issues that are happening on campus,” Oydanich said.

The measure sends a signal to the Dartmouth community by vocalizing some of the College’s problems, Chelsea Lim ’16 said.

Jordan Kunzika ’16 said that he hopes the new center will do more than spread awareness of sexual assault.

“It definitely shows that the College is taking an initiative to make this widely known and to make it seem like a high priority,” he said. “I just hope that centralizing it will actually give it the social emphasis that it needs so that these issues are actually dealt with and that change actually happens.”

Other Ivy League institutions have established similar centers, including Yale University, Princeton University and Columbia University.