Sharing the burden: Increasing the administrative presence in sexual assault services

The recent publication of statistics regarding the incidence of rape and sexual assault on campus in President Falk’s all-campus e-mail on Feb. 9 has driven the issue of rape and sexual assault to the forefront of the community’s consciousness. The statistics, which were expounded in this issue of the Record, and the comparisons they draw are alarming, but we urge the College community not to focus on comparing the statistical prevalence of rape and sexual assault on our campus to that of other institutions. While understanding where we fall relative to our peers serves as an important benchmark, the mere existence of sexual assault on campus constitutes a severe problem, and we must strive for its complete eradication. Rape and sexual assault are by no means problems specific to the College: The culture of sexual misconduct is a national epidemic. We as a college, however, should hold ourselves to a higher standard and make it clear that there is no space for sexual assault in our community.

The Record commends the Rape and Sexual Assault Network (RASAN) and other groups for their diligent work thus far in tackling this issue. The existence of a 24-hour hotline for those in need is impressive. We also appreciate the productive discussions regarding sexual assault that take place during JA and Baxter Fellow training, First Days, Claiming Williams and Take Back the Night. While such forums allow for education and awareness, we fear that many people on campus are still not aware of precisely what constitutes rape or sexual assault. Many students simply do not know where to draw the line.

Furthermore, the nature of the social culture on campus, and particularly the prevalence of alcohol, serve to blur this line even further. Current prevention mechanisms do not adequately address the issue, and the poster campaign and first-year education program in particular, while well-intentioned, are regrettably ineffective. We appreciate that sexual assault is discussed immediately upon first-years’ arrival at the College and that these conversations continue throughout the year, but we should not rely on students to initiate these sessions. RASAN programming tends to be overwhelming, particularly during First Days, which makes it difficult for entries to have these challenging conversations. Follow-up sessions, while technically mandatory, are not well-attended, and such education is not effective unless everyone partakes and engages in it.

RASAN’s “Ask” poster campaign, which serves as one of the group’s primary means of communication with the campus, is a weakness in the organization’s attempts to engage students. While the idea behind the campaign is commendable, its current implementation is too subtle and the message behind the posters is often lost on students.

The administration needs to provide more in-depth education about rape and sexual assault as well as more widespread and better-facilitated bystander training. RASAN is not, at its core, an advocacy group; it is a support service. In order to permit RASAN to focus its resources on support, advocacy responsibilities should fall largely on the shoulders of trained professionals. Such professionals should run bystander training, and be available to answer difficult questions on sexual assault. We recognize that some of these services are already in place through the Health Center’s Sexual Assault Survivor Services. However, we see the need to expand administrative and institutional support for these services. The College needs to shoulder the burden of education on such a sensitive and multifaceted issue.

It is also imperative that groups working on this issue collaborate to avoid overlap and to most effectively employ their combined resources. Increased coordination between RASAN, the Health Center, administrative committees and outside professionals could improve educational efforts and poster campaigns across campus. While we are not informed enough to determine what campaign ideas would be most effective in serving to eliminate rape and sexual assault on campus, we think it would be worthwhile to explore a variety of approaches to heighten awareness. The College should work to implement more overt, forceful poster campaigns that make use of available statistics, bring speakers or performers that address rape and sexual assault to campus and host campus-wide discussions on the issue. Resulting initiatives should be clear and concise in their aim as well as unavoidable, forcing us to acknowledge the existence of rape and sexual assault here at the College and actively partake in its elimination.

This campus must have a zero-tolerance approach to sexual assault, and we as students should not rely solely on support and advocacy groups to bring this issue to light. The College prides itself on not just being an educational institution, but a community where every member can feel safe. With increased administrative support, this sense of community can continue and be strengthened through increased sexual assault prevention and awareness.