Sexual assault prevention initiatives changing culture on campus, but goal is still far off

Students take pulse of push for action and awareness

Sexual assault prevention initiatives having positive influence on campus culture but mandatory reporting requirement and lack of transparency in sexual assault investigations must be addressed, students say.

On Jan. 22, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden spoke at an event for the Council on Women and Girls. Their comments were in no small part about reexamining sexual violence on college campuses.

At the same time, the Knox College administration has instituted measures to address such cases that hit closest to home.

From the creation and reopening of groups like ASAP and SARC to events such as Dare to Care to the distribution of flyers featuring contact information for sexual assault resources, the President’s message has been taken to heart in Galesburg.

“I think a lot is being done in the sense that [during] the first two terms I didn’t know what resources were available in case something like this happened … we are making progress in the sense that we are making the information known,” freshman Michelle Ryczek said. “I think it’s headed in a pretty positive way, because for me I feel safe walking around campus at any time.”

Freshman Jahi Taylor also sees awareness as the best way to initiate a change of culture.

“I feel like we’re moving in a positive direction … I think that if we do it properly and we work at it as a campus and not as a select group of people fighting against it we could almost phase it out,” Taylor said.

When gender violence educator Jackson Katz visited campus in mid-March, there was not enough room to accommodate the number of students who showed up to hear his message.

Katz’s branding offered students an incentive to attend the event beyond more traditional seminars similar in nature, according to Ryczek.

“The topic of, you know, just violence against women, that’s sort of like, ‘Okay, that’s good.’ But then looking at men’s roles in this, I was like, ‘Hey, you don’t get that a lot. I want to hear this.’”

Sophomore Ian Horne attended the event with his Beta Theta Pi brothers in part because of Katz’s respected position within the gender violence community.

“We were a little skeptical because I think that a lot of the ways people present feminist ideas on this campus can a bit off-putting at times, but I think Jackson Katz himself did a very good job of presenting the points that he needed,” Horne said.

Katz’s honesty and willingness to answer questions in a straightforward manner was a popular aspect of the presentation, Taylor said.

Students took away different lessons from the lecture. Ryczek noted Katz’s focus on the bystander effect, while Horne and Taylor reevaluated their views of feminism.

“The specific thing was mainly that feminism is in everyone’s best interest, and I think that he did a very good job at showing that,” Horne said.

Though Taylor said that he still has a lot to learn about feminism, he learned a lot about the universality of its application during the Katz lecture.

“Feminism isn’t a women’s issue … it’s an issue for everyone. I definitely like how he stressed that. Because from what he said, and what I have learned from it, it definitely is an issue for everyone and it tends to be an issue that guys in general just push aside,” Taylor said.

While the initiatives put forth have had a positive impact, there are still aspects that can be improved.

“I think a lot of [the initiative] is very good, particularly the task force, ASAP… There are some things I really don’t like about it, namely the fact that all faculty members are required to disclose all information they hear, because I have heard stories of girls trying to approach faculty and staff members wanting to tell them things but wanting to keep it confidential … that’s the one thing I think could be dealt with a little better, but otherwise I think they’re doing a good job,” Horne said.

Since the beginning of the year, a number of sexual assaults have been reported, whether immediately after the occurrence or retroactively. While there is no question that the investigation of these reports is a positive action, the student body is rarely updated on the outcomes of these investigations.

“I know there have been a lot of cases reported … but I don’t know the results of those so I can’t be 100 percent sure, but I know they are taking a lot more action than they have before so I do like that,” Horne said.

Ryzcek also supported the investigations, but admitted that she thinks it would be beneficial to learn how the investigations “pan out.” She added that her desire for more transparency in the process is rooted in wanting to know that something had been done, not necessarily to know the punishment in itself.

Knox maintains a diversity of thought, and that will lead to a variety of opinions on the process the administration has undertaken to make the school a safer place.

Horne said that while he knows many people who support the actions currently underway, he also knows people who believe that too much is being done.

Taylor believes that it will take time to effectively change the culture for good. He has encountered people with varying degrees of openness towards the process.

“I feel some are more open than others, but I feel like everybody for the most part is willing to give it a shot. There are some people who still hear the word feminism and sort of tune it out a bit, but I feel like that is slowly becoming less and less of a reality,” Taylor said. “People are beginning to realize, even if I do believe that it’s not really my issue, it might be somebody I know’s issue. It might be a friend, a family member and for that reason I need to stop and listen É pay attention to what’s going in order to be able to help them, and by doing that I help the people around me as well.”

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