Yesterday, sophomore Angie Ostaszewski and senior Trevor Sorenson hosted another student open forum as a continuation of the forum during winter term in Harbach Theatre. While winter’s forum did not have a faculty panel, this forum was divided into two times throughout the evening (one at 5 p.m. and one at 7 p.m.) and each had a panel of five faculty members.
At the first forum of the evening, the panel consisted of President Roger Taylor, Acting Dean of Students Debbie Southern, Director of Campus Safety John Schlaf, Director of Counseling Services Dan Larson and Director of Residential Learning Craig Southern. The only difference in the evening’s second panel was that Craig Southern’s spot was filled instead by Associate Dean of Students Heather Poppy.
A main focus of the forum was the handling of sexual assaults on campus. Students raised concerns that issues brought up last term would be forgotten about this term.
After one student asked what things have been started on campus in regards to a change in school policy regarding assault, Taylor replied, “A number of projects are under way, some initiated by students.”
He also mentioned the new peer-facilitated support group Assault Survivor Support at Knox (ASSK) for people who have experienced sexual assault in their lives.
There is also another group called BE Active (the “B” standing for bystander and the “E” standing for effectiveness), which is workshop-focused. It aims to help students recognize dangerous situations and act quickly to prevent these situations from worsening. The Office of Student Development is also working on a campaign called the “Know Your Power” poster campaign.
Professor of Psychology Gail Ferguson said that her focus, especially with the BE Active project, is on “some of the efforts that we can make that are preventative […] The posters will reinforce that same intervention message for bystanders.”
Aside from new groups being started, Taylor and Debbie also gathered members of the Grievance Panel together and gave them a brief training session.
“There will be periods of sometimes a year when there are no cases,” said Taylor. “Then, there will be a complaint [brought to the panel]. We thought it’d be a good thing to have everyone on the panel together and know who is on the panel.”
Some members of the Student Life Committee (SLC) are also in the beginning stages of forming a subcommittee that will function solely as a place to deal with issues of sexual assault.
Taylor also mentioned that this year’s Flunk Day, when it happens, will have an added overtone.
“While Flunk Day is a wonderful Knox tradition, there unfortunately have been some students who use it as an excuse to get blitzed and I know of one sexual assault that happened on Flunk Day,” he said. “So, we’re looking at Flunk Day with a different nuance this year.”
Students also recommended that the administration take a look at what other universities do to handle sexual assault and incorporate other ideas into the school’s system.
Another idea generated by students was to start putting a stronger focus on positive sex enforcement on campus. The Student Health Advocacy Group (S.H.A.G.) is planning on bringing speaker and sex columnist Dan Savage to campus.
“We thought we’d bring him to campus to put a positive image on campus about sex,” said S.H.A.G. president junior Gabe Paz.
While many students want to have a balance of positive reinforcement and dealing with the issues of sexual assault through discourse, many students brought up the issue that many immediate problems of assault first go through the Counseling Center at Knox.
Sorenson asked at one point if the Knox counseling services currently has a certified rape counselor on staff.
“We don’t right now have a certified rape counselor,” said Larson. While the college did have this position filled last year, that person has since left to be a part of a private practice.
Freshman Netsie Tjirongo said, “I feel kind of like counseling services are kind of understaffed as far as this goes.”
Larson also said, “I’m of the feeling that clinical psychologists have the training to be very effective with that student,” referencing someone who might go to the Counseling Center for the reason of a sexual assault.
Each state has their own program which states how many hours a person must work to obtain official certification as a rape counselor.
In the same vein, it was suggested that Campus Safety have a female Campus Safety officer and also that Campus Safety’s Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D.) self-defense class was possibly made into a half-credit or no-credit class offered at Knox. In order for the class to become something that can be a part of the Registrar’s course schedule, students would have to bring the proposal to the Curriculum Committee and then the faculty would propose the idea.
There was also much discussion about how to get students thinking about sexual assault and assault prevention early in their Knox career. This would mean putting more components of sexual assault into orientation week and encouraging students, specifically upperclassmen, to use their peer influence to encourage students to attend these events.
Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies Magali Roy-Fequiere suggested that students should be required to sign a sexual code of conduct at the beginning of their freshman year in the same way that they sign their honor code contracts.
In reference to the list of demands distributed to student and faculty mailboxes last week from Estudiantes sin Fronteras and Alliance for Peaceful Action (APA), Taylor said some of them seem realistic, though others he found unclear.
“Some of these things are of interest,” Taylor said. “But getting a list of 22 so-called demands stuffed in my mailbox is not the most effective way. Bring them forth in a one-on-one way, not a pamphlet.”
In the future, students and the administration will continue to work together changes in the college’s handling of sexual assault on campus.