Green: Beyond Intervention

by Isaac Green | 11/6/14 8:37pm

Students who rushed this fall attended an hourlong Dartmouth Bystander Intervention session, which focused on how individuals can prevent sexual assault on campus. The program I attended focused narrowly one kind of sexual assault: those that result from predatory men preying on incapacitated women. Per my recollection, the program did not allude to the possibility of a male victim. And the presenters did not provide definitions for words like rape, sexual assault and consent in their conversations about sexual assault.

I found it to be an emotionally targeted presentation that fluctuated between awkward and boring. I didn’t leave feeling empowered, hopeful or educated. Instead, I left feeling like Dartmouth had failed to capitalize on an opportunity to diminish sexual assault on campus by not comprehensively educating attendees.

As the sole sexual assault education program that people about to assume positions of social power on campus are asked to attend, DBI ought to go further. It should do more than just encourage a sense of paternal responsibility to look after one another when we’re out at night.

Yes, bystander training programs certainly have a place in college sexual assault prevention policies. Intervention is important. I have nothing but respect for people who check in with an inebriated woman they have never met as she walks out the door of a fraternity. I agree that if we were more vigilant about recognizing situations that could lead to sexual assault, the campus would be a safer place.

But the program can be summed up in one flawed sentence: it is our responsibility to prevent sexual assault at Dartmouth by intervening in situations that we notice could lead to sexual assault. While sexual assault often results from social drinking situations, they many arise in other ways. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 35 percent of attempted rapes of college students happen during dates, and relationship violence comprises a significant proportion of the sexual violence that occurs on college campuses.

Most importantly, while we all share a responsibility to prevent sexual assaults by watching out for each other, we have a far greater responsibility to prevent sexual assaults by not sexually assaulting other people — a point the program never addressed. As I recall, not once in the hourlong program was I told not to rape. This is nothing short of tragic.

No matter how many “bystanders” there are around campus, sexual assault will continue until every student takes personal responsibility for ensuring they do not assault a fellow student, whether through malice or ignorance. To that end we must better educate students about the horrific consequences of sexual assault for victims.

When our professors hand out syllabi at the beginning of term, we are told in no uncertain terms not to plagiarize. This is often accompanied by precise definitions of honor code violations and lengthy discussions of ramifications. And professors sometimes mention the number of students who have been dismissed for academic honor principle violations in recent years. The College should send the same message regarding sexual assault, so that every student in every class hears: here is what sexual assault is, here is what harassment is, here is why you should not do it and here is what will happen if you do.

Dartmouth has an opportunity to use the spotlight upon us to take the lead in making positive and constructive changes to combat the pernicious tides of behavior rampant across college campuses. Administrators must take innovative steps in this charge, and I see no better place to start than creating a mandatory sexual assault program that emphasizes personal responsibility and makes a lasting impact upon its attendees.