Students discuss C3I at open forum

by Rachel Pakianathan | 1/14/19 3:05am

Students had the opportunity to voice their thoughts on the College’s recent move to address sexual harassment and abuse of power on campus. On Jan. 11, Student Assembly and the Student and Presidential Committee for Sexual Assault co-hosted an open forum about the Campus Climate and Culture Initiative — the College’s new initiative to combat sexual violence. The initiative, which was announced by College President Phil Hanlon on Jan. 3, follows the filing of a $70 million lawsuit against the College alleging that Dartmouth violated Title IX and failed to protect the plaintiffs from sexual harassment.

SA president Monik Walters ’19, SA vice president Nicole Knape ’19, SA ambassador of student life Carlos Polanco ’21 and SPCSA executive chair Paulina Calcaterra ’19 facilitated the forum in Collis 101, which saw about 20 attendees over the course of an hour and a half discussion.

Representatives from SA and SPCSA said that the purpose of the event was to field student opinions about the initiative in an open setting and report those sentiments to the administration. The College does not currently have an official representative for the initiative, they said, but is in the process of finding one. Senior associate dean of student affairs Liz Agosto ’01 was the only administrator present for the entire duration of the meeting. Student Wellness Center associate director Amanda Childress arrived later in the forum.

“We wanted to form a place where people felt comfortable enough to bring up their concerns, to know what worked and what didn’t work as part of the initiative,” Polanco said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “Just so we can gather information to bring forward to the College leadership.”

Polanco opened the forum with a short presentation outlining the initiative and its components. The initiative features reforms largely inspired by a 2018 report published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. These reforms include mandatory Title IX training for faculty and staff and an evaluation of the College by an independent external advisory committee.

Following the presentation, the remainder of the forum was dedicated to open discussion among the attendees. During the discussion, students voiced skepticism about the roll-out of the initiative and its components. One student described the initiative as “too little, too late.”

The timeline for implementing the proposed reforms also concerned several students present at the forum. One expressed frustration with the College’s commitment to hiring five new counselors in a three- to four-year time frame, despite the immediate need, and the one- to two-week long wait times for students currently seeking counseling on campus.

In response, Walters referenced a conversation she said she had with interim dean of the College Kathryn Lively, who cited financial concerns and difficulties in acquiring and retaining mental health professionals. Agosto also noted the shortage of mental health professionals in the Upper Valley as another cause for delay.

Other issues brought up at the forum included students’ doubts about the College’s transparency in releasing department evaluations and reports as mandated by the initiative. Students also voiced concerns regarding the efficacy of using online modules for faculty and staff training.

During the open discussion, Calcaterra said that she thought it would be difficult for online training modules alone to reverse “years of socialization.”

Diana Vizza ’20 said she attended the forum because she wanted to add her voice to the discussion about sexual violence on campus.

“I’m not seeing enough accountability,” Vizza said. “When people aren’t held accountable and people don’t see people being held accountable, people think what they’re doing is fine.”

Calcaterra added in a later interview with The Dartmouth that she felt the discussion at the forum was constructive and informative.

“I feel like it got at the core of why ... this [initiative] feels weird,” she said. “Why did this not feel great even ... if [it] might look good [on paper]? I feel like we got to that understanding of what about [the initiative] irked us and what about it is hopeful.”

According to Polanco, SA is planning on holding more open forums in the future.

“We realize that student dialogue is not something that happens often on campus,” he said. “So it’s definitely something that’s going to be a regular part of Student Assembly in the future.”