At the Sexual Assault Symposium

At the Sexual Assault Symposium

Students at the First Annual Sexual Assault Symposium, three years ago.

For at least one segment of the Dartmouth community, the hard alcohol ban was not the most interesting result of Moving Dartmouth Forward (MDF)’s new initiatives. At Dartmouth’s Fourth Annual Sexual Assault Symposium, students, faculty, and staff discussed one of the main catalysts for MDF: sexual assault, violence, and harassment. They laid out past efforts to combat sexual assault, discussed current trends in the community, and unveiled new initiatives, many based in MDF, to combat sexual violence at Dartmouth.

Sophia Pedlow ’15 and Tori Nevel ’16, Student Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault chairs and the opening speakers, praised the fact that the event has grown over the past four years; while it started out as a closed event for a select group, it is now widely attended by and open to all students. Nevel explained the purpose of the event, stating that “We are here for each other… and to think about these issues and how they matter to the survivors and the community.” She expressed hope that “…the administration and students can work together… and get things done.” Seemingly in line with this statement, President Phillip Hanlon reiterated his past rhetoric, asserting that “The eradication of sexual violence at Dartmouth has to be a very top priority.” In an interesting remark, he thanked everyone in attendance for their “transition from advocacy to activism.”

This statement, in the tradition of the Hanlon Administration, places the burden of change not on the well-equipped Dartmouth bureaucracy, but on the students themselves. It appears that President Hanlon wishes for students to fight an uphill battle against the web of administrators that has come to distinguish Dartmouth in recent years, so long as this battle stops short of his office door. He remarked that Dartmouth’s leadership on the issue of sexual assault is “not rooted in the belief that we have all of the answers,” but rather our ability to work as together as a community.  He then spoke on Dartmouth’s previous accomplishments, listing among them “fundamental change and strengthening of our judicial processes.” Unfortunately, it appears that working together as a community does not include involving the appropriate authorities in matters of law such as sexual assault; rather, it consists of a judicial process that, although better than before, still manages to fail victims while trampling over the rights of the accused.

Following President Hanlon’s speech, a panel took place consisting of Benjamin Bradley, a survivor advocate, Katherine McAvoy ’17, a student leader in combating sexual assault, and Heather Lindkvist, Dartmouth’s Title IX coordinator. The principle message of Bradley and McAvoy’s speeches was the sheer amount of College and student groups and initiatives combating sexual assault; keeping track of the acronyms involved proved nearly impossible, but a partial list includes such programs as the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative, Sexual Assault Peer Advisors, Responder Workshops, the Student Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault, a partnership with the Upper Valley Women’s Information Service, Mentors Against Violence, various programs at the Hopkins Center, and most recently, the Campus Climate Survey.

The survey, one of many MDF initiatives, attempts to garner information not only on the prevalence of sexual assault and other forms of negative sexual occurrences at Dartmouth, but also on students’ attitudes towards sexual assault and the programs combating it. The survey purportedly cost Dartmouth nearly $70,000, including the cost of providing students who take it with a five dollar Amazon gift certificate.

Lindkvist, following the other two panelists, thanked the Student Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault, saying that she used it to gauge what students on campus really want. Many students may find fault with this premise, as the committee consisted of a group of students whose core goals and ideology regarding solutions to sexual assault issues provided the metric for their selection. She then discussed MDF’s upcoming sexual respect website, saying that it will be a central repository for all information on sexual assault, including resources, definitions, and regulations, and that it will coordinate Dartmouth’s “prevention, education, and outreach” initiatives.

McAvoy spoke with another MDF initiative, the Four-Year Sexual Assault Education Program, announcing that a committee tasked with development had recently had its fourth meeting, and that the committee had looked at the United States Naval Academy, which is the only other institution of higher education possessing of have such a program. While she said that examining their program was helpful, she also stated that “It’s not as robust as they would like or we would like. It’s nowhere near where we will end up.” Lindkvist added that “We can always look at peer institutions but we need to work on something that’s Dartmouth-specific.” She also stated that the College will hire a new WISE advocate. When a student asked her what an ideal next step for Dartmouth in combating sexual assault would be, she said “If I had a magic wand, I would [give] the College as many programs on sexual violence, dating violence….” Her thought seemed to ramble, so unfortunately it is not evident whether she would give the College enough programs to combat sexual assault or enough to make it look good.

Another speaker revealed a new initiative, this one aimed at encouraging student organizations to add “standards for membership,” meaning provisions in the organizations’ constitutions that provide consequences for sexual assault and related offenses. As an example, the speaker cited Amarna, the undergraduate association, which has amended their constitution to include procedures for dealing with sexual assault internally. Chelsea Lim received praise for a survey she conducted on the effectiveness of the Mentors Against Violence program at Greek houses.

Lindkvist spoke again, this time on MDF’s planned online “Consent Manual.” She called for applications for student to participate in development of this new tool, saying that there will also be other methods to contribute. She said that the Consent Manual will provide examples to supplement existing definitions and that the goal is to release it by start of the 2015-2016 school year. Lindkvist also revealed that a “choose-your-own-adventure” format is under consideration. Further remarks and questions indicated that those involved cannot decide whether they want to focus on specifics or the “general feel” of potential situations. In many ways, it appears they want both, or at least the parts of both that support their preconceived definitions of sexual assault.

In a remarkable moment of clarity, Amanda Childress, Coordinator of the Sexual Assault Awareness Program, spoke and addressed the fact that “having more programs doesn’t mean they are going to be effective.” She proceeded to complicate the discussion by adding “We want to expand this beyond sexual violence…. Sexual violence is not the only form of violence that is rooted in oppression and inequality.” Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer chose not to speak from the stage in a sign of her commitment to the community. Students asked her a variety of difficult questions, ranging from the topics of racism, classism, and sexism to faculty involvement. In a refreshing twist, she answered each question directly and with a sense of personal and professional responsibility to the student body.

Dartmouth has a problem; indeed, society also has a problem, and Dartmouth’s sexual assault problem is not necessarily proportionally larger than that, but it still remains that sexual assault occurs at Dartmouth and every effort must be taken to combat this. At the fourth annual Sexual Assault Symposium, students discussed new and existing initiatives to improve life at Dartmouth. These initiatives may be confusing due to their ever-increasing number, they may be misguided according to some differing viewpoints. Fortunately, most students and at least some administrators who are involved in combating sexual assault at Dartmouth have the purest of intentions and are open to input from those with other views. In the upcoming implementation of MDF, there will be opportunities for students to help guide the process. For those who want to see change, this opportunity cannot be neglected.

Following the conclusion of the symposium, the Review spoke with Katherine McAvoy about her involvement in the ongoing fight against sexual assault at the College.

The Dartmouth Review (TDR): Can you describe your role in MDF’s initiatives and their implementation?

Katherine McAvoy (KM): I am on the housing committee [in addition to] the phase one design and development [committee] for the four-year sexual assault plan. That group consists of two faculty, two students, Amanda Childress, Reese Kelley, and one person each from OPAL and the Wellness Center

TDR: What kind of effect will the new hard alcohol ban have on sexual assault?

KM: People are focusing and reacting too much on the hard alcohol ban when honestly it’s the least interesting thing that MDF put forward. We are working independently of it.

TDR: Both the consent website and the app have received mocking media attention. How do you plan to work with this when implementing MDF?

KM: Both of these ideas have been done in some form or another in other contexts. The people involved in the implementation of those projects…are looking to cultivate the best ideas while trying to avoid the pitfalls that implementations at other schools have experienced.

TDR: Can you tell me about the culture of the groups looking to implement these provisions? What is the atmosphere like? Is there a consensus support for MDF?

KM: We wouldn’t be there if we thought the idea didn’t have merit, but we do have diverse viewpoints on the details and how we should implement. It will result in a more effective product then if we were all of the same mindset.

TDR: What is at the core of the problem of sexual violence at Dartmouth? Is it alcohol? Greek life? Or is it just individuals?

KM: If there was a simple answer there would be a simple solution and we already would have done it by now. That’s why this work is so important: because there isn’t a simple solution.

TDR: Do you think we can eradicate sexual assault at Dartmouth?

KM: No, because we are not educating, we are re-educating. Students come into Dartmouth with their own experiences and what our education program has to do is meet the different needs of our students and move to a healthier community. We can decrease the prevalence and better help the survivors but we can never fully eradicate sexual assault, just like a society larger than Dartmouth.