SPCSA organizes first symposium
By Emily Baer, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Monday, January 30, 2012
The Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault hosted its first annual Dartmouth Symposium on Sexual Assault on Saturday to reflect upon the programs and initiatives currently in place to address sexual assault on campus and consider new ways to confront it in the future. Over 100 faculty, administrators, leaders of campus groups, coaches, sports team captains and executive members of Greek and co-ed organizations gathered at round table discussions in Alumni Hall for a period of four hours to address sexual assault on campus.
Sexual assault constitutes a community problem and must be addressed accordingly, Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson said.
“It is not a question of whether sexual assault has touched you, but how directly,” she said.
She spoke about her vision to utilize the leadership of College President Jim Yong Kim, his office’s resources and a “dedicated core” of students, faculty, staff and alumni to devise a comprehensive strategy to prevent sexual assault.
Following Johnson’s remarks, Sexual Assault Awareness Program coordinators Amanda Childress and Rebekah Carrow and Special Assistant to the President for Health Initiatives Aurora Matzkin ’97 presented the College’s sexual violence initiatives, focusing on new and upcoming programs.
“We know that it’s not going to be just one thing, just one person that is going to bring about change, and that’s why we are taking a comprehensive approach,” Childress said.
The addition of a second SAAP coordinator, presidential fellow for sexual assault, external consultant and special assistant to the president for health initiatives, and the establishment of the SPCSA are among the steps taken by the College to address sexual assault since Kim assumed office, Matzkin said.
The leaders of several student-led programs involved in addressing the campus issue presented their goals for the upcoming year.
Anneliese Sendax ’13, a sexual assault peer adviser and member of SPCSA, said she hopes to increase the visibility of the SAPA program on campus and reorganize its structure to facilitate closer relationships between SAAP coordinators.
Anastassia Radeva ’12 and Andrea Jaresova ’12, both members of SPCSA and co-directors of Mentors Against Violence, said the MAV program will develop freshman programming, an athletics initiative and Greek facilitation for new members this year.
Gender and Sexuality XYZ student executive Van Melikian ’14 said GSX plans to host LGBT-themed social events to expand and maintain safe social spaces for LGBT students.
To address sexual assault, the Greek Leadership Council formed a committee on assault issues that began to meet in the fall 2011, according to GLC moderator Trevor Chenoweth ’12.
Green Team board member Sarah Wildes ’13 talked about Green Team’s plan to collaborate with the new Bringing in the Bystander program, which will focus on educating potential bystanders, who could prevent sexual assault by intervening in questionable situations, about their role on campus. Green Team will also work with 32 colleges and universities interested in implementing programs similar to Green Team.
Although a portion of the symposium was devoted primarily to student speakers, philosophy professor Susan Brison was asked by SPCSA coordinators to be involved in order to demonstrate that she and other faculty members stand by students in their campaign against sexual assault and violence.
“We’ve been told by some faculty members that this is not a faculty issue, but it is, and you can always come to us,” she said.
In her speech, Brison recalled two cases of sexual assault — one of which was a rape and an attempted murder in France perpetrated by a 25-year-old stranger — of which she was the victim. The second assault was committed by a man with whom she was acquainted, she said.
“The hard case is when you feel betrayed by someone you knew and where your credibility is questioned,” she said.
In response to those who have told her that “the whole problem comes down to mixed drinks and mixed messages,” she said 90 percent of perpetrators are repeat offenders who know what they are doing.
Following Brison’s presentation, facilitators led the individuals seated at their tables in a 30-minute discussion about the gaps in the College’s efforts to combat sexual assault. Facilitators then presented their groups’ responses.
Many groups cited the need to create a comprehensive coalition that encompasses all of the sexual assault initiatives, perhaps in the form of a centralized physical location like a violence prevention center.
Some spoke of the importance of providing freshmen with sexual assault education in order to demonstrate early in their college careers what is and is not acceptable in the Dartmouth community. Others talked about the impact of upperclassmen and student leaders serving as role models and of engaging faculty in the sexual assault conversation.
Table groups were then asked to discuss the power imbalances in the Dartmouth community. Many cited a host-guest relationship that creates a power imbalance, particularly at fraternities, which often host parties. Some groups said that it is also important not to isolate fraternities as the sole cause of the power imbalance at the College, and others discussed the difference between “day” and “night” behavior exhibited by students.
SPCSA recorded all responses to the round table discussion questions and will use them to formulate “solid, cohesive goals that the community can work toward” during the year, SPCSA co-chair Chinedu Udeh ’12 said. Next year’s symposium will look at the progress made on these goals. In addition, this year’s responses will be published on the SPCSA website.
During the dinner, Dani Levin ’12, previous SPCSA chair, addressed the “power structures [at Dartmouth] and the attitudes they engender,” especially within the Greek system, and the dependence that results from being a guest at a fraternity.
“As a guest, you are dependent on the hosts for continued extension of welcome in their physical space,” she said. “You’re dependent on them for access to their privileges, like beers or whatever happens be going on upstairs in rooms. And that dependency defines the parameters of the unequal relationship between members and nonmembers, an inequality that is replicated and magnified as soon as you leave the scope of general social interactions and enter into sexual ones.”
She cited the story of a female member of the Class of 2011 who was raped as a freshman. The assault invaded every facet of the student’s day as she focused on avoiding her attacker for fear that the healing process would be undone, Levin said.
“Can you imagine?” Levin asked. “To have your body violently imposed upon, and, months and years later, have a daily reminder of that moment by having every step of your schedule imposed upon too?”
She called on members of the audience to associate with the girl described because “it is statistically a matter of time” before they are affected by a similar situation, as one in four women are raped at some point in their college career.
“Don’t leave here and change power structures for me,” she said. “Do it because the victims are quite literally the closest people to you.”
Shivani Bhatia ’13 gave a spoken word performance about the meaning of the word “rape,” especially as it pertains to a friend's story of sexual assault.
The symposium concluded with remarks from Duncan Hall ’12, co-chair of SPCSA, as he emphasized the community’s role in the issue of sexual assault and asked guests to take the discussion back to their respective campus communities in order to begin changing the current culture that allows acts of violence to occur.
“We hope they’ll take back a sense of accountability for this issue and a list of priorities,” he said. “We hope that guests have a new understanding of how this is a community issue and we hope they come away with a new sense of purpose.”
Hall said that SPCSA had their future goals in mind while choosing guests from different communities for the symposium.
“Who attended was important because we wanted not only to talk to current leaders, but also to those who are going to be campus leaders,” he said.
The process by which the committee determined the symposium’s round table discussion questions was thoughtful and geared toward creating productive conversation rather than hypercritical dialogue, according to Hall.
“We tried to encourage creative, out-of-the-box discussions,” Hall said. “The College already has a long list of things to be done. We wanted to discuss the cultural aspect — why it is the way that it is.”
The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Bhatia shared a spoken word performance about being personally sexually assaulted when in fact the piece was about a friend's story of sexual assault.