Sexual assault issues plague Knox students and faculty alike. Dean of Students Debra Southern stressed that this is an immensely complex and delicate topic. “All colleges and universities struggle with this issue,” she said. According to Southern, the student body and faculty are in agreement that this is an issue that needs to be fully addressed with the time and energy this complexity requires, but there is some disagreement as to what this entails.
A Student Life Committee (SLC) subcommittee on sexual assault will not be formed this year. In its stead, a currently nameless student-run organization is being loosely organized by senior Joey Firman.
Professor of theatre and staff representative for SLC, Elizabeth Carlin-Metz, said that faculty attempted to emphasize sexual safety throughout first-year orientation. This year, freshman orientation included a performance by Catharsis Productions called “Sex Signals,” sponsored by the Office of Student Development. Freshmen also received a pamphlet, “Sexual Assault: What you need to know NOW,” telling students how to find support for sexual assault victims. According to Carlin-Metz, “now the focus is on fostering student interest in involvement and initiatives.” She says the administration was cautious to instigate profound changes over the summer because it would leave students out of the process.
Students are certainly not being left out of the process now. Firman is spearheading an organization that intends to include representatives from across campus. This means representatives from the Human Rights Center communities (Students Against Sexism in Society, Student Health Advocacy Group, Alliance for Peaceful Action), Greek and non-Greek members of campus, Student Senate representatives, administration, faculty and any other member of the Knox community interested in creating a sexually safe environment.
There appears to be great support for such an organization across campus. Associate Dean Heather Poppy said, “I like the idea of adding more emphasis to sexual safety.” She said that the main idea is to keep the issue of sexual assault in mind all of the time and not allow it to fade into the background.
This is precisely why students like junior Angie Ostaszewski are concerned that SLC is not instigating a subcommittee. She expresses the fear that administration will allow this issue to be “put on the back-burner.”
Ostaszewski held open forums regarding sexual assault last year and organized student policy suggestions and presented them to SLC. She said, “As long as you keep asking, administration is responsive.” She said that student involvement is a key aspect but that she feels cheated that the administration went back on the decision to create a subcommittee through SLC.
Ostaszewski feels that offering services through the Firman initiative is only part of the battle. “It’s more direct if it’s through SLC,” she said. By having more staff and faculty involvement, Ostaszewski believes that procedures will be more effectively and efficiently altered.
Director of Counseling Services Dan Larson said that the SLC subcommittee is not taking place because Firman’s initiative has such a similar mission statement. He stated that SLC was “tabling the committee to give others a chance.”
He feels that SLC fully endorses this organization and is willing to offer it any support that it may need. He said, “It’s good that as many people as are interested have a chance for their voice to be heard,” and one such organization can only improve campus life.
Options for students dealing with issues regarding sexual assault include BeActive (Bystander Effectiveness, headed by psychology professor Gail Ferguson), Assault Survivor Support at Knox (ASSK, headed by Tianna Cervantez, Director of Multicultural Student Advertisement), as well as the multiple services offered by the Health and Counseling Center and Campus Safety. Off-campus support includes WIRC-Community Action Agency, Galesburg Cottage Hospital, Safe Harbor, OSF St. Mary Medical Center, Galesburg Police Headquarters and the National Sexual Assault Hotline.