College Holds 7th Annual Sexual Assault Symposium

by Jennie Rhodes | 4/16/18 2:35am

The 7th Annual Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault Symposium on Apr. 13 presented progress made on the last year’s projects, which included a “Survivors of Sexual Assault Handbook,” a flowchart and feedback form for survivors, student research and other initiatives. Around 70 students, faculty, staff and Hanover town residents were in attendance.

According to SPCSA executive chair Paulina Calcaterra ’19 and SPCSA outreach chair Neerja Thakkar ’19, the symposium intended to communicate updates and changes in sexual violence prevention on campus. It was designed to be a space for a collaborative reflection on the work done and future work to prevent sexual violence, Calcaterra said.

The symposium began with an introduction from College President Phil Hanlon, who acknowledged recent action on campus to raise awareness about sexual assault prevention, including the “Take Back the Night” march and Greek houses closing their doors in solidarity.

Following Hanlon’s speech, Calcaterra and Thakkar presented progress updates on the projects SPCSA has implemented in the past year as well as future plans for those projects.

Since summer 2017, the SPCSA has been developing a “Survivors of Sexual Assault” Handbook. According to Calcaterra and Thakkar, the SPCSA noticed both a lack of resources with language reflecting a survivor’s experience and a need for a survivor-centered guide on how to move forward after experiencing sexual misconduct. Using non-triggering language, the handbook aims to compile resources and post-assault processes available for survivors, as well as frequently asked questions about sexual assault.

The SPCSA is also working to develop a flowchart that will help survivors visualize the options and resources they have at their disposal after a sexual assault incident. Additionally, the SPCSA is creating a feedback form for survivors to inform the College about ways in which specific departments at the school can improve their support for survivors.

“I want people to know that there are new initiatives,” Calcaterra said. “These are important things that the community members need to know if they are responding to sexual violence or if they want to know how to collaborate or publicize these processes.”

The symposium also detailed the student research on campus sexual misconduct, which is funded by the SPCSA’s Elizabeth A. Hoffman Research Grants. The three recipients of the 2017 Hoffman Grants were Amanda Royek ’19, who is working on a project to improve student-faculty encounters during and following sexual violence disclosures; Sydney Paluch, a student in the Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies program, whose project seeks to identify the social factors that discourage sexual assault reporting at Dartmouth; and Jaclyn Eagle ’19, who is working to improve sexual assault education at the College.

“Many [research projects] have helped our understanding of the issues on campus,” senior associate dean of student affairs Liz Agosto said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “The grants are a liaison between students and the administration. They help students and faculty create policy to support students.”

The SPCSA also plays a large role in recommending solutions to the College for sexual assault prevention, according to Agosto.

“It is important to get together to discuss any challenging issues,” Agosto said in the same interview. “Sexual violence impacts every person. Every person has a role to play in addressing and stopping behavior and advocating. [The forum] serves as an important vocal point for different voices to talk about this issue.”

At the symposium, four members of the Dartmouth and Hanover community also presented on recent sexual assault prevention initiatives.

Agosto presented on the 2017 Sexual Misconduct Survey, in which 34 percent of respondents reported experiencing non-consensual sexual contact since arriving on campus, up from 28 percent in 2015. According to Agosto, this increase could be caused by a number of reasons, including an actual increase in incidents, an increase in survey response or an increase in national conversation and understanding of what sexual misconduct looks like.

“Regardless of the reason, [34 percent] is too many,” Agosto said at the symposium.

Student Wellness Center associate director Amanda Childress announced the progress the Wellness Center has made in the Sexual Violence Prevention Project since the project’s conception in 2015. This four-year program starts in a student’s freshman year and aims to shift the mentality on campus toward sexual misconduct, according to Childress. She added that she wants an increased proportion of positive relationships on campus.

Hanover Police captain Mark Bodanza reiterated that the Hanover Police Department has recently implemented the You Have Options program, in which survivors decide if they only report information, launch a partial investigation or launch a full investigation. According to Bodanza, Hanover Police is the only department in Northeastern U.S. with this program and is one of seven departments nationwide.

Mae Hardebeck ’18 reported to the audience on the past year of her Title IX office internship. Hardebeck said she has noticed the need for transparency in student to faculty reporting and the need for easily-accessible resources for survivors.

Dispersed throughout the symposium were group discussions on sexual assault, including filling out a pre- and post-presentation survey. These surveys were later collected by the SPCSA for future analysis on campus mentality.

“I came to increase my understanding as a[n] [undergraduate advisor] on the updated resources, material and information that community has access to,” Monik Walters ’19 said.

Calcaterra said she believes that rethinking language and taking stock of one’s own behavior are powerful ways to work toward prevention.

“If you are going to go to an event and then act harmful[ly], it defeats the purpose,” Calcaterra said.

Thakkar said that being educated is the best way to alleviate support fellow students.

“Take time to join student groups or learn about sexual violence and why it’s so prevalent, how it can be prevented and how to respond,” she said.

Agosto said that she hopes every student who participated in the forum can take away the information they have learned and share it with the community.

“You, as a student, have the ability to talk about sexual violence and create space to not fear social life on campus, supporting people coming forward,” Agosto said. “Every student has the ability to stop behavior if something doesn’t look or feel right.”

Eagle is a member of The Dartmouth senior staff.