SPCSA hosts symposium to update recommendations

by Rebecca Flowers | 4/25/17 2:00am

The Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault has continued to work on five recommendations to improve reporting of sexual assault on campus that it originally released in October 2015. According to the current chair of the SPCSA Abhilasha Gokulan ’18, these recommendations include education of faculty, long-term healthcare for survivors of sexual assault and feedback about administrative resources from survivors who have reported to the College.

According to associate director of the Student Wellness Center Amanda Childress, the SPCSA was established in 2011 by former College President Jim Yong Kim “as a response to a number of student concerns around sexual violence on campus [and] how the College was handling sexual violence issues.” It was established to be an advisory board and a committee that could act as both a student voice and a means of disseminating information from the administration to the student body. It continues to accomplish these goals by releasing recommendations to the administration and working to implement them, Childress said.

In the group’s first years, its main accomplishments were implementing the Safe Ride program — that continues today — and prompting the College to hire a second staff member to address sexual violence. Childress explained that previously, there was only one staff member who was responsible for sexual assault prevention and response work on campus, and, due to time constraints, had focused more on advocacy work than prevention education.

Childress was hired for a position that, at the time, was called “sexual assault awareness coordinator.” Since then, her position has “evolved massively” in both title and work, Childress said.

The SPCSA has continued to work as an intermediary between Dartmouth students and administration since then. Initially, the group released long lists of recommendations every year, but it “takes time to look into the research into what’s effective and how to implement those things,” Childress said.

In the day-to-day mechanics of SPCSA, members work throughout the term toward both developing recommendations and implementing policies. A few people are assigned to each recommendation, Gokulan said, and everyone is updated on their progress at weekly meetings. Gokulan said the diversity of their group helps them access different parts of campus.

“The good thing about our committee is everyone has different strengths and skills,” Gokulan said. “We have people who were on [the Panhellenic council], [the Interfraternity council], athletes, we have people who are [members of Movement Against Violence] [and Sexual Assault Peer Advisors].”

On Friday April 14, the sixth annual symposium of the SPCSA updated students on the committee’s progress towards implementing previous recommendations. The symposium also included a presentation by Mae Hardebeck ’18, to whom the SPCSA had awarded the Elizabeth A. Hoffman research grant to conduct research on sexual assault reporting at the College.

SPCSA has had success in working towards the recommendations presented at past symposiums. After working with government professor Yusaku Horiuchi in the quantitative social sciences department, the committee developed a forum to centralize the process of providing feedback about the College’s treatment of people reporting sexual assault so that any problems in the process can be addressed more easily.

However, the committee still wants to see more improvements in the administration. The second recommendation presented at this year’s symposium, which SPCSA continues to work on, states that the College should provide financial support to cover the cost of long-term counseling at Dick’s House for survivors of sexual assault. Originally, Dartmouth had a limit of 10 counseling sessions per term, a policy that was recently removed in efforts towards the goal of long-term counseling, Gokulan said. However, it’s still based on a short-term counseling model because of limited resources, she added.

According to Katherine McAvoy ’17, former chair of the SPCSA, the Elizabeth A. Hoffman research grant supports a researcher for one to two terms and includes a stipend as well as covers any costs associated with research. This year, Hardebeck presented on reporting sexual misconduct at Dartmouth. She said she was inspired after a revelation she had while working as a SAPA.

“I realized after being a SAPA on campus for a couple of terms that even though I knew all these ways of how to emotionally support survivors, I didn’t actually understand or know exactly what the process was when they wanted to report,” Hardebeck said.

Hardebeck collected data through a campus-wide survey that received 266 responses and conducted in-depth interviews with 16 participants who wanted to share their reasons behind why they did or did not report to the administration. She found that many students are not familiar with the reporting process and that there is a huge lack of information about the resources.

“A lot of people will get information from their friends, so it can be especially difficult for freshmen who either don’t have those connections made yet or people who just are not well-connected,” Hardebeck said.

She also found that there is a huge misconception that the Title IX coordinator at Dartmouth is an advocate for survivors. Title IX is a law that prohibits all forms of sex or gender-based discrimination in any education program, and the purpose of the Title IX coordinator at Dartmouth is to uphold this law. Therefore, it has the responsibility to be fair to all students in its process, which prevents them from being an “emotionally supportive resource for survivors,” Hardebeck explained.

In her surveys, Hardeback also found that identity has a huge impact on how survivors experience campus life after the incident of sexual violence. For example, before policies were changed at Dartmouth, Hardebeck said there was an assault victim who did not possess the resources to obtain a lawyer, as her assailant did.

“She was out-resourced in her complaint,” Hardebeck said.

In her research, Hardebeck found differences in perception of the College’s sexual violence support among students from different socioeconomic classes. For example, students of higher socioeconomic classes rated the College’s sexual violence support higher than students of lower socioeconomic classes. Hardebeck speculated that this could possibly be due to remembrance of this “horror story.”

Hardebeck has her own recommendations for the administration, which include making students more informed and getting them more involved in Dartmouth’s sexual assault prevention resources, through internships and mandatory education.

“I think there’s a lot of room for accountability and transparency,” Hardebeck explained.