Several rows of chairs formed an expanded circle in Old Main’s Common Room, waiting for community members to arrive at last Thursday’s Title IX and Consent Forum — the first of many formal conversations on the topic this year.
Campaign organizer and senior Erica Witzig felt nervous and excited, prepping for the event.
“I think this is going to go really well,” she said. “We really want people to know we’ve matured as a group.”
The campaign’s first open forum, held Spring Term, drew a crowd of 40-something students but no administrators, Witzig estimated. Issues such as mandatory reporting were discussed, feelings were aired and information was shared, but Witzig and her fellow campaign organizers, seniors Rachael Morrissey and Sithara Vincent and sophomore Lexi Toney believe the conversation must go on.
Their first order of business: proactive solidarity. “We really want to focus on what consent is, rather than it what it is not,” Morrissey said.
The group is working on designating a survivor space on campus and stocking it with materials. They hope to offer monthly self-care days through the counseling center and they are promoting ASAP’s new publication “The Vanguard.” Future consent workshops are also in the works.
Their goals for the coming year shifted somewhat over the summer in response to feedback from fellow students in person and over social media, plus backlash from a controversial protest the group organized last May outside Alumni Hall. Their 152-member Facebook page helped facilitate this dialogue.
“A lot of [the conversation] was dedicated to making sure we are all on the same page and that we channel our anger in better, more productive ways,” Vincent said. “It was a lot messier than I realized until recently with all the feedback.”
But support and outreach will not eclipse the group’s activist aims in the coming year, and Morrisey is aware that not everyone will see eye-to-eye with them.
“Activism means you’re demanding space, you’re making people pay attention to something that makes them uncomfortable,” she said.
The protest followed a spring meeting between the Campaign and the Office of Student Development, during which two of the organizers walked out in frustration. They intend to continue that conversation with the administration.
Vincent attributes their difficulties with the Office to a lack of communication and understanding.
“They think that we’re demanding things that don’t exist and they listen, but they’re not actively listening,” she said. “And then they get defensive, and we get defensive, and then we butt heads and it goes nowhere.”
Title IX coordinator and SAAC Advisor Kim Schrader sees finding common goals as a way to open up that conversation.
“I think that we agree that we all want to have a community where people are safe and respectful of each other, in which we are committed to primary prevention and awareness, education, in which we cultivate a culture of respect and provide support to survivors,” she said.
Schrader identified responsive, informed policy and procedures as primary goals held by the administration heading into this academic year.
“The changes that were made last year were in direct response to some of the concerns about the timeliness of the process,” she said, referring to last year’s switch from the grievance panel to an investigative model.
The replacement of Sex Signals with a new orientation program, Let’s Talk About It, an Avon Foundation grant allocated toward a peer facilitation program and an upcoming open house showcasing area victim service providers are, according to Schrader, big steps forward.
Though the outcome of these conversations with the administration remains unclear for the campaign, they will occur more often. The organizers met with Schrader, Dean of Students Deb Southern, Interim Director of Student Development Tom Stafford and Campus Safety Director Mark Welker this Monday to discuss plans for the year. These meetings will occur bi-weekly for the rest of the term.
The organizers hope to continue holding open forums throughout the year as well.
Thursday’s forum was geared toward freshmen, but fewer than 15 students attended, only a few of them freshmen, possibly because of a scheduling error on the Facebook invitation.
Three executive members of Sigma Chi did attend, arriving early in their fraternity t-shirts.
President and junior Esai Ponce and sophomores Nick Martinez and Joe Connors were there to learn more about the issues surrounding Title IX and to show their support.
“That’s a big part of our initiative: Showing that, on our part, we are participating in the community and not just standing by,” Connors said.