By Will Greenberg, Daily News Editor
Published November 9, 2014
As conversations on sexual assault continue to grow on campus, the Central Student Government has partnered with the I Will campaign to facilitate peer-to-peer efforts to address the issue.
Sunday morning, a group of more than 20 students attended a workshop to discuss education, awareness and resources, as each relates to sexual assault prevention. The meeting was the first of several meetings meant to build a foundation for future action.
CSG President Bobby Dishell, a Public Policy senior, and LSA senior Hannah Crisler, director of I Will, hosted the event and invited Engineering Prof. Thomas Zurbuchen; Jen Wegner, assistant director of Student Affairs for the School of Engineering and Holly Rider-Milkovich, director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, to help facilitate group discussion. The event was part of CSG’s participation in the “It’s On Us” campaign.
While students had varied affiliations with different groups and schools on campus, the workshop was designed to include students already passionate about the issue themselves. Students from across campus, student government representatives among them, shared thoughts on where the University has fallen short in handling sexual assault and offered ideas of how to improve.
However, this first workshop was not focused on finding immediate solutions. Organizers acknowledged the importance of first removing the stigma surrounding the discussion of sexual assault and aimed to consider new ideas to tackle the issue.
“We are in a marathon, not a sprint,” Rider-Milkovich told the room.
Still, by the end of the session, the attendees landed on a handful of ideas that could be implemented in the near future. Most notably, the idea of expanding the required prevention training to all student groups — including clear language about sexual assault prevention into the student honor code and requiring Greek Life-affiliated parties to display signs specifying the definitions of consent —was on the list of demands anonymously posted on the Diag in October.
CSG Vice President Emily Lustig, an LSA senior, said it’s possible the ideas presented Sunday could be presented as legislation at CSG meetings in the coming weeks. Moving forward, Crisler and Dishell said they hope students will return to these work sessions, with an open invitation for more students to get involved.
Issues with sexual assault on campus came to the forefront last winter following the report of former kicker Brendan Gibbons’ permanent separation from the University for violating the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy. A CSG taskforce investigated the University’s handling of the incident and found that the administration mishandled the Gibbons case and that the University was unable to adequately process incident reports between 2012 and 2013. This year, students have continued the discussion through the “Carry the Weight” campaign and CSG’s participation in the national “It’s On Us” campaign.
Crisler said I Will, which is now in its fourth semester at the University, has started working with the Athletic Department to provide basic sexual assault prevention training classes. She said they have not done work with the Interfraternity Council yet, but she agreed with the idea of creating informative signs at parties. Crisler was aware of the demands on the Diag but said I Will is not specifically working toward achieving those specific aims.
While Sunday's event only yielded a couple dozen students, Dishell, Rider-Milkovitch and the other organizers acknowledged that different people from different communities have varying needs and hope to include as many voices as possible moving forward.
Crisler said having a diverse set of contributors is something she has prioritized but stressed that it must be done in the right way. She said the best way is to create a welcoming, safe environment to everyone on campus and invite all voices rather than systematically find students of different identities and recruit them simply because they fit a certain demographic.
“You don’t want to have people in the room voicing opinion because they are transgender, or because they are gay, or because they are Asian, or Latina, or African American,” she said. “You want those voices, but you don’t want them there just because they identify as that.”
Rider-Milkovich said she was pleased with the event and supports the emphasis on trying to educate students as part of a multi-level approach to tackling the issue. The process was described to students as first starting with short-term outcomes —providing expertise to students and motivating people to get involved. The goals then progress into ultimate outcomes, including modified behavior, changed policies and changed practices, and then finally long-term goals of better overall environment.
In an interview after the event, Rider-Milkovich discussed the feasibility of some of the ideas from the meeting. She echoed University President Mark Schlissel’s remarks on mandating fraternities put up signs, saying it would be an overstep of the University administration’s power, with the Greek system being governed primarily by IFC and the houses being private property.
Rider-Milkovich did emphasize the influence of alcohol on sexual assault incidents.
She also provided her definition of “rape culture,” a term used by a couple of students on Sunday and one often used when discussing assaults at parties. She explained that it’s a national trend — not just something that the University experiences. She added that media and social norms heavily influence this culture and too often the tendency is to blame the survivor of an incident.
“(People) inappropriately place the emphasis for prevention or inappropriately place the responsibility on the person who experienced the harm,” she said.
However, she said she liked the idea of getting students more involved in education and empowering their peers — one idea along those lines was a type of “guerilla campaign” where students would flyer and give out stickers across campus. She also advocated strongly for bystander intervention intiatives and improving training for students so they feel comfortable stepping into a situation if necessary.
Rider-Milkovich said other areas that need improvement are SAPAC education on North Campus and reaching out more to male survivors, students with disabilities and veterans, among others.
Art & Design senior Anica Presley, a member of the CSG Assembly, attended the event and said sexual assault prevention is a topic she has been interested in for a while, particularly in light of recent events on campus. She said she intends to return to future meetings, hoping to bring some of the new ideas back to her school.
Presley said art installations can actually be a good outlet to share experiences for survivors — she gave the example of whiteboards where people are welcomed to contribute. She said it promotes anonymity and typically creates better discussion.
“I definitely will follow up on the guerilla intervention,” she said. “Unannounced art work can be really influential in how people interact with the space.”
Clarification appended: A previous version of this article did not mention that the event was part of CSG's work in the "It's On Us" campaign.