SPCSA gathers student feedback
Increased programming, a renewed sense of accountability and more discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender dynamics are necessary to lower the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, a group of approximately 15 students said in a town-hall-style meeting sponsored by the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault on Sunday afternoon in One Wheelock. The discussion moderators SPCSA co-chair Elizabeth Hoffman '13 and Mentors Against Violence co-director Andrea Jaresova '12 will present suggestions from the discussion in a report to the administration by the end of Fall term, Hoffman said.
Participants suggested that the College require first-year students to enroll in a mandatory course reviewing sexual assault, violence and drug and alcohol abuse. This programming, like the College's required swim test, should be a graduation requirement, Motema Letlatsa '12 said.
"How many times does a person go to the river and drown?" Letlatsa said. "Compare that to how many times someone gets sexually assaulted at Dartmouth."
The number of reported forcible sexual assaults at the College more than doubled from 2008-2009 to 2009-2010, rising from 10 to 22, according to the College's Annual Security and Fire Safety Report released on Sept. 30.
Other attendees at the meeting agreed with Letlatsa, while Jaresova referenced the required "Sex Signals" presentation for first-year students during Orientation as an example of an event that could have a greater influence if it included more thorough follow-up discussions and workshops.
"Ninety minutes to talk is not enough time," she said. "We could spend weeks."
Christian Brandt '12 said that although programs facilitated by MAV are "really great," more frequent programming would affect a greater change in the campus' overall attitude toward issues surrounding sexual assault.
Students at the meeting debated who should lead such programs and discussed both the benefits and drawbacks of using undergraduate advisors, professionals brought to campus and professors with pre-existing knowledge as discussion facilitators.
Students also debated whether such discussion groups should be co-ed or single sex. Jaresova, who led three mandatory single-sex discussions for freshmen following the Sex Signals presentation, said it is hard to gauge how effective mixed-gender discussions would be.
"Sometimes the discussion is lacking because people don't know each other and are uncomfortable expressing their true concerns," she said.
Jaresova suggested merging single-sex groups with groups of the opposite sex partway through a discussion to combine benefits from both types of environments.
Upperclassmen are not required to attend programming surrounding sexual assault awareness, which limits the potential power of such events, several attendees send in the discussion.
Lack of discussion surrounding LGBT issues is a "huge weakness" of the College's sexual assault programming, Hoffman said. This void greatly impacts the information available to LGBT students on campus, according to Brandt.
"Most of the rhetoric is male-female orientated, which leads a lot of LGBTQ people to think what happens to them is not sexual assault," Brandt said. "The best way to do it is to approach it the same way in terms of presentation hold the issues side-by-side."
Students at the discussion also pegged individual and collective accountability as aspects of campus life that the College should focus on in the future. If an incident occurs within a specific campus organization, such as a Greek house, that organization is accountable and should take responsibility for the individual's actions, MAV co-director Anastassia Radeva '12 said.
The policy drafted by the Panhellenic Council last spring should be expanded to further increase campus accountability, Sigma Delta sorority president Dani Levin '12 said. Panhell's policy states that all social events held in conjunction with a Greek organization in which a member has assaulted another student will be suspended unless internal adjudication processes are started in a timely manner.
Publicizing sexual assault incidents when they occur could increase accountability among Greek organizations, Brandt said.
"Once you publicize something that happens, it forces an organization to take accountability for it," he said. "Their social standing on campus will decrease. You can harness peer pressure for positive change."
Students should not spend time advocating for crime alerts that would publicize all allegations of sexual assault because such a goal is impossible to accomplish and would be a waste of resources that could be targeted elsewhere, according to Levin. While current crime alerts sent to the Dartmouth community are necessary, the College is unlikely to notify students of all individual charges, she said.
"The administration is largely driven by the media," Levin said. "The [Board of Trustees] would have a serious problem with a negative image of the school."
The town-hall format of Sunday's meeting created a practical forum in which students could express their concerns, Hoffman said.
"Right now, there's a lot of tension on campus, and you see that surface in instances of vandalism or discrimination," she said. "It's much better to have people's voices heard in a way that isn't angry or violent but can be heard by the administration in the mode that they're comfortable with a report from students."
SPCSA received funding from the President's Office for the meeting, Hoffman said. The group also reached out to the Inter-Community Council and the Office of Pluralism and Leadership before Sunday's event in an attempt to increase representation from communities that are often underrepresented in dialogue surrounding sexual assault, Hoffman said.
"Often we hear from predominately white heterosexual women, and that's only a small portion of the campus and of the group that's affected by sexual violence here," she said.
SPCSA was founded in Spring 2010 to facilitate communication between the administration and student body regarding sexual assault.
"It's really important for students to feel heard, that they're not alone in these concerns, that the administration is listening," Hoffman said. "The SPCSA is making sure they do."