By Kate Collins
The Committee on Consent Education and Awareness organized Union’s first Sexual Assault Awareness Week from Sept. 28 to Oct. 3.
This is a new student-led committee that consists of Shayna Han ’15, Sydney Giller ’16, Kyra DeTone ’15 and Antonia Batha ’17.
The committee organized a number of activities and programs centered on the national effort that aims at preventing sexual assault on college campuses.
President Obama and Vice President Biden recently launched the “It’s On Us” pledge. The campaign aims to fundamentally shift the way sexual assault is viewed on campuses by “inspiring everyone to see it as their responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it.”
The campaign has enlisted diverse support, from major college sports leagues to prominent celebrities.
Additionally, the campaign puts a greater emphasis on encouraging men to get involved.
According to the White House, while in college one in five women will be sexually assaulted and many of these individuals are sexually assaulted during their first year by someone they know.
55 colleges in the U.S. are currently under investigation for the manner in which sexual abuse cases are handled once students make allegations.
Union is one of nearly 200 colleges and universities that have agreed to participate in the campaign.
At Union, students, faculty and administrators were asked to take the “Its On Us” pledge.
The pledge is available for anyone to complete online at any given time.
It is described as a “personal commitment to help women and men safe from sexual assault” as well as a “promise not to be a bystander to the problem, but to be a part of the solution.” When a student is taking the pledge, they are pledging to adhere to four rules.
“First, the individual will recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault. Second, the student will identify situations in which sexual assault may occur. Third, the student will intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given. Fourth, the person will create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.
Union students can take the pledge on Facebook or on Twitter.
Last spring, Union began expanding its Bystander Intervention Program, which enlists and trains members of the campus community to intervene in situations where sexual harassment or sexual violence appears imminent.
The program trains student leaders who represent athletic teams, including the men and women’s hockey and lacrosse team.
Leaders of Greek organizations, Safe Space, Leadership Diversity Council and others organizations will also be trained.
Last week’s activities for Sexual Assault Awareness Week included LGBTQ discussions, a showing of the film Brave New World, a presentation by Attorney Elizabeth Fisher ’81, a discussion with “Party with Consent” founder Jonathan Kalin and the event “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.”
Han, Giller, DeTone, Batha approached Chief Diversity Officer and Coordinator of Title IX at Union, Gretchel Hathaway, to ask if they could plan a week focused on spreading awareness of sexual assault.
The Committee on Consent Education and Awareness collaborated with Hathaway to plan the various events.
Hathaway noted, “it was their idea to do an entire week so that we could get the message out during the red zone period.”
She continued, “The red zone period is the first few weeks of college life at every college, where students are new to the campus.
Incidents can occur on and off campus at any college. So, we wanted to make sure we provided educational programs especially for our first-year students.”
Throughout these events, conversations were brought up regarding the status of sexual assault at Union. Jonathan Kalin led a discussion at Messa House on Thursday night.
Kalin is Founder and Executive Director of “Party with Consent,” which he created as a second year at Colby College through the organization Males Against Violence.
He aims to educate college students around the world by holding events that bring attention to the problem of sexual assault before it happens as well as attract a group of people to the conversation.
At the discussion on Thursday night, Kalin started by asking students to get up and sit with someone they have never met before.
Then, once in a new seat, students were asked to introduce each other in one minute. After that, the group was instructed to reintroduce themselves, but this time they only had thirty seconds and could not hold a conversation related to people, places or work.
This sparked the topic of how modern culture instigates individuals to learn less about another individual’s personality and more about the individual’s superficial characteristics.
The thirty-second conversation shined a light on the lack of substance to the discussions that people have when meeting a new person.
In an unrestricted conversation, students tend to talk about topics that were more superficial.
One participant said, “If you’re in a group with Union students, you find yourself recycling conversations about things like ‘I do this, I do that, I’m president of this club, my major is’ and it gets kind of boring.”
Kalin then highlighted the underlying fear that many individuals have about sharing personal information to new acquaintances. This transferred into the exploration of the lack of efforts to influence change at Union.
In particular, one person stated, “There’s a stigma around having a passion or caring about something at Union College.”
Essentially, Kalin aimed to relate this thirty-second conversation to how it relates to sexual assault.
A participant drew connections between all the points and explained, “Having these superficial one-minute conversations stops you from caring about the person. You shut yourself off from the humanity of a person.”
The participant continued, “In some ways this, ‘oh hi, how are you, what major are you, what’s your name’ conversation gets you the basics but it also shuts you off from the fact that there’s a person inside and they have feelings and emotions and things that stress them out and they’re just like you.”
“I think having those one minute conversations stops you from realizing that this other person is stressed out too and is just like you. This cuts you off from humanity and essentially can lead to sexual assault,” the participant further asserted.
At the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event on Friday afternoon, various men’s clubs, sports teams, and Greek Organizations came together and walked around in heels. Its main goal was to involve more men in the awareness of sexual assault.
At the event, when asked about the “It’s On Us” pledge, Hathaway stated, “It’s on us. It’s our responsibility to help stop sexual assault and sexual violence. It’s everybody [responsibility].
So, we are hoping faculty, students, get on board. The President of our Student Forum has signed us up for this and I think it’s a nice charge for us to do as a campus.”
When asked what the pledge meant to her personally, Hathaway responded, “What it means to me is that campuses, especially ours, are going to focus on educational programs, by standard intervention.
It’s not one person’s job. It’s not a women’s issue.
It’s everybody’s issue; it sends a different message and matches our view that our campus is welcoming.”