Vox Clamantis: A Symposium for Change

by Susy Struble | 11/25/13 9:36am

Letter to the Editor:

Anarticlepublished on Nov. 18 covered College President Phil Hanlon's recent presentation to the faculty regarding student life issues.

It is encouraging that President Hanlon is speaking out on the pressing need to eradicate sexual violence at Dartmouth. We applaud his recognition that this is of singular importance to the Dartmouth community and look forward to his strong and creative leadership.

However, the article states that President Hanlon said, "Dartmouth’s efforts have also been noticed by others — clinical psychologist David Lisak, another leader in the study of sexual assault on college campuses, invited Dartmouth to co-host a conference with him on strategies for the future."

Although President Hanlon said this, it is not entirely true.We are sure that President Hanlon did not intentionally try to mislead anyone, but he was clearly misinformed.The invitation did not stem from recognition of Dartmouth's efforts in this area. Indeed, and quite unfortunately, the only national recognition of Dartmouth's efforts to address sexual assault is the government-led Title IX investigation by the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, something that was not mentioned by President Hanlon at the meeting.

DartmouthChange, a fast growing organization of alumni, faculty and students who are collaborating to end sexual violence on campus, is actually the point of origin of the invitation by Dr. Lisak for Dartmouth to participate in a national summit on college sexual assault. We are very grateful to Aurora Matzkin, director of health promotion and student sellness, for championing Dartmouth's participation within the administration.

The fact that President Hanlon highlighted the conference in his speech must mean that Dartmouth will be a lead sponsor and participant, and this is fantastic news.

One of the goals of the conference is to identify and address legal and policy issues colleges and universities commonly face in tackling sexual violence. To the extent it's possible, the symposium aims to solve a few specific issues during the event. We suggest that the College take this opportunity to work through the problems it consistently references when it's suggested that the College's reporting system(s) could be improved to better address repeat offenders. We also suggest that the College leverage this conference to get peer institutions to conduct annual surveys of community attitudes and experiences of sexual assault in a standardized way. Such surveys — which should be well-structured, independently managed and with public results — are the only way to have evidence-based, quantitative and qualitative benchmarks of what's actually happening on campuses and what preventative actions are effective.

Struble '93 is the founder of the nonprofit Dartmouth Change.