Student-run forum addresses assault

Sophomore Angie Ostaszweski and Vice President of Student Senate senior Trevor Sorenson greeted students and faculty at the entrance to Harbach Theatre, handing out placards for people who wished to participate in the sexual assault open forum this past Monday night. Over 100 students and faculty attended the forum.

The objective of the night was to generate discussion and ideas to better prevent and respond to sexual assault. Students were given the opportunity to sign up beforehand to give a speech and questions were open to everyone as long as it was done in a respectable manner.

“We do not want this to become a shouting match. We do not want this to become an uncivil meeting,” said Sorenson when opening the forum.

There were around ten speakers signed up and a 10-20 minute time limit allotted for questions and discussion after each speech.

The first speaker of the night was a member of the Knox Grievance Panel Task Force, Professor of Dance Jennifer Smith. She said, “many things [about the Grievance Panel] could be greatly clarified.” Smith added that the Task Force had been reviewing process and procedure for a year-and-a-half. She criticized the unfortunate opinion the student body developed of the GP as being “against the person” who has been sexually assaulted. She also stressed that the assaulted person should be able to “set their own guidelines” and that the student body has to respect that.

Some students asserted that the student body was not educated on the function of the GP and that there was lack of clarity on protocol. Students demanded to know whom they could go to since Knox does not have a set person in charge of sexual assault complaints. Smith recommended Debbie Southern and RAs, adding that, in the past, cases have come through faculty members on the behalf of students.

The next speaker was sophomore Sam Bernstein. He opened up with some humor to “lighten the mood,” then proceeded on to his two points.

The first was that “no one is anonymous at Knox.”

“I know all of you, if not by name then by sight,” he said.

The second point was that Knox is “an active campus.” He stressed that Greek silence, in his view as a non-Greek, protects sexually assaulted people. To be public is to “stir an emotional pot that, frankly, isn’t ours to stir.”

He also said “[Knox students’] aspirations [outreach] the confines of our [campus].” He addressed that turning individual cases into something larger was not productive. In response to one member of the audience who yelled out, “Are you serious?” Bernstein said, “If you allow this to become a debate… you will hurt the [sexually assaulted person].”

Senior and Panhellic Council President Maddy Eaton added the idea that it was not “[her] business to tell you about someone else’s business,” and that “Greek silence” is not a term that is used amongst the Greek community. Greek confidentiality is a legally binding contract. Sorenson came in saying that this was “neither the time nor the place” for a Greek/non-Greek battle.

Students engaged the issue of administrative response. One student said, “They need to send out [something that says]: look, if this happens to you, here’s who you need to talk to.”

Questions of set procedures were also raised. A student asked whether “Debbie Southern [has] a certain way of addressing [sexual assault].” Another student answered that there is an exact link on the Knox Web site on what to do if you are sexually assaulted.

Semantics were brought up by one student who asked whether or not anyone knew the definition of sexual assault. Her question was not answered, nor was there discussion of it.

Instead, talk moved to self-defense classes. Director of Campus Safety John Schlaf told the audience that there were two members of Campus Safety who are trained in self-defense and lessons are available upon request. A Union Board representative also reiterated that Union Board had held self-defense workshops in the past that no one attended. There was a call for a sexual assault awareness week.

The next speaker was an anonymous sexual assault survivor. She wanted to talk on the theme of discourse. She called the anonymous posters an “unfortunate reaction” and said as a part of the minority on Knox’s campus who have been sexually assaulted, “that minority… does not need to be reminded of their sexual assault.” She cited herself as a sexual assault success story and advocated for a survivor culture on campus instead of a rape culture.

She also said the use of the term “victim” as opposed to “survivor” is not helping those who have gone through the experience.

“Citing me as a rape statistic diminishes my accomplishments of the past seven years,” she said. She had been assaulted seven years ago. A student in the audience agreed, chastising the audience and general public to “be a good person” and to treat survivors “like people and not like victims.” From then on in the discussion, everyone used the term survivor to describe a person who was sexually assaulted.

Some technical issues were brought up, such as drinking responsibly, using a buddy system at parties, the fact that sexual assault also happens to men and people should learn how to “act” as a way to prevent some of these assaults from happening. One student brought up the statistic that 90 percent of rapes are acquaintance rapes.

A suggestion to bring in date rape test strips for students to put in their drinks came up. Ostaszweski said those strips produced a false sense of security because it tested for only one type of date rape drug. Junior Arianna Timko pointed out that alcohol is used in many sexual assault cases and noted that “testing a date rape drug for another date rape drug” was absurd.

Another student asked why sexual assault was turned into a “women’s issue and Greek issue.” A Greek member brought up the contradiction that Greeks have to be transparent while the Grievance Panel does not.

The question of student attitudes towards sexual assault came up. One student said, “No matter how you act [or defend yourself]… it is not your fault if you are attacked,” though it was not defined what she meant by “how you act.” Another student identified herself as a survivor and said that when she told her friends when it happened they asked her if she was sure that’s what had happened. She was also thankful of the administration’s help with her case.

The conversation went back to testing for date rape drugs. Ostaszweski recounted her own story of waiting to get an appointment to get checked at the Health Center on campus when it was too late to test for anything.

The administration’s reaction came up again. One student assessed that the “administration is overtaxed, understaffed [and] it seems like everyone is overscheduled.” He also remarked that it took two weeks to meet with a Dean and one week if it was an emergency.

In response, Dean of the College Larry Breitborde said, “The fact of the matter is if we had trust in how the administration works… then it would be less important to people.” Students also advocated for a campus-wide e-mail when acts of sexual assault are committed, similar to when a mugging or battery happens. This sparked a small debate on whether the e-mails should be done with or without the permission of the survivor. The amount of details that would be provided in the e-mail was not defined.

It is federally mandated by the Clery Act that all institutions of higher education in the U.S. report all crimes and information about crimes on and around their campus in a timely manner. Whether this be stated in a Campus Safety Log or in a campus-wide e-mail is not specified.

Junior David Fundakowski, President of the Interfraternity Council (IFC), said the Greeks had a safety policy they followed for their parties and a procedure they followed and students could ask any member about it before going to a party or during. Ostaszweski asked him to explain the procedure but Fundakowski declined. She asked if fraternities Beta Theta Pi and Tau Kappa Epsilon would be willing to explain their procedures at another forum.

The forum ended after two and a half hours. Seven of the scheduled speakers were not heard and so it was decided that another forum would be scheduled soon. The minutes of the meeting are available on the Student Senate Web site.

Rana Tahir
Rana Tahir is a political columnist for The Knox Student, primarily covering international issues. She will graduate in June 2013 with degrees in political science and creative writing, after which she will attend the University of Denver's publishing institute.

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