Students Talk Transparency at Sexual Violence Forum

Sarah Carter ‘22

News Editor

This past week, representatives from the College Counseling Center, Chaplain’s Office, and Relationship Peer Educators coalesced on the Hoval to initiate conversation on sexual violence within the College community and how to best promulgate awareness for sexual violence within the student body. Present at the forum were Paul Galvanhill, Director, Counseling Center, Marybeth Kearns-Barret, Director, Chaplain’s Office, Andrew Omondi, Assistant Chaplain, and Officer Shawn de Jong, Director of Public Safety/Chief of Police, among others. Nestled beneath the Hoval tent, flanked on all sides by torrents of rain, faculty and students alike shared sentiments, uncertainties, and concerns about recent instances of sexual misconduct on campus.

Commencing the forum with an introduction to the College’s emergency notification service, Officer Shawn de Jong briefed students on the process of reporting violations to the Department of Public Safety. She made plain to students that records of sex discrimination, including sexual harassment and stalking, should be relayed to the College’s Title IX Coordinator at the Office of the Director of Title IX, while complaints regarding sexual misconduct should be forwarded to and filed under  the Department of Public Safety, in which case, upon the receipt of all pertinent information, an emergency notification is sent out to the larger campus community – as we saw happen this week. Elucidating on the reported sexual assault that took place this week in Brooks Hall, Officer de Jong assured students that while no information on the location/holding conditions of the perpetrator can be released, the survivor of the incident is in trustful hands, bolstered by the support of both the Dept. of Public Safety and Worcester Police. 

At the close of Officer de Jong’s presentation, attendees were instructed to form two smaller cohorts for group discussions. Relationship Peer Educators then facilitated dialogue within each group and mediated conversation between parties. Before inquiring into feelings of any kind, RPEs primed students on the intent of their organization: “ . . . to educate and encourage students to examine issues around intimate relationships, sexual responsibility, the differences and similarities among men and women, the development of healthy and unhealthy relationships, and the factors surrounding sexual assault.” Senior RPE Lily Bockowski ‘22 also reiterated that all RPE members have undergone specialized training (ie. bystander education and relationship counseling programs) to prepare them for the services they provide. 

It did not take long for discussion to manifest itself within the group. Almost right away, students developed queries about the recent email notification received this week related to the events in Brooks Hall. There were manifold responses among attending students — from seething indignation to sadness, and mental perturbation to panic. Attendee Amanda Quintino ‘24 was particularly incensed by the matter. Speaking emphatically about how unsafe she now feels on campus, Quintino broached the subject of why the College has withheld information regarding the location of the supposed perpetrator; she posed questions such as, “Are they [the perpetrator] still on campus? Are they in my building? In my classes?”. Other students communicated reciprocal feelings of angst and unrest, remarking how unprotected they feel within our purportedly intimate and familiar campus community.

Also present at the event was SGA Co-President Connor McNerny ‘22, who commented on the ubiquitous nature of sexual misconduct on campus during his career at the College. Throughout his four years on campus, incidents of sexual assault/aggression/violence were all too commonplace on the Hill, principally during his first few years. To mollify the situation and contain the risks now fomenting beneath every member of campus, McNerny began an initiative to inform the community on relevant uncertainties associated with sexual violence and to consider the ways in we can preclude acts of sexual violence in the future. This enterprise, under the name ENGAGE SUMMIT, “ . . . was a reactive event on cammpus stemming from issues of sexual violence, racism, and sexism in which the Academic Governance Council approved a plan to cancel classes for one day so that students might participate in a series of informational, sex education sessions on campus.” Some of the series offered to students included, Prevention of Sexual Misconduct, Community Healing, and Ethical and Legal Culpability on College Campuses. McNerny woefully admitted that this event has not taken place on campus since 2018.

Towards the end of the discussion, students conceived methods of propagating awareness for sexual violence on campus. Abby Flaherty ‘24 implored administrative teams to require student programs related to sexual violence education as a part of move-in week, in the same way they do for Gateways Orientation. She referenced the dismal turnout at the forum itself as evidence of the need for greater sex education programs on campus, seeing tht so many students are unwitting to an issue that is unfurling right in front of them. She further stated that survivors of sexual misconduct share an ignorance akin to that of the greater student body’s, in that they know not how to access and properly leverage the wellness resources available on campus; and this is largely because they don’t know where to begin. In Flaherty’s words, “The school backs us up with all of these resources, but it’s one thing to say that these resources exist and another thing entirely for students to experience them directly. Student outreach by counseling and wellness centers on campus needs to improve if we want to see more students benefiting from the programs and services offered here.”

At the forum’s end, Assistant Chaplain Andrew Omondi thanked all of the attendees and participating faculty for their faithfulness to these most pressing issues. He enjoined students to make use of the resources available to them at both the Counseling Center and Chaplain’s Office and, as always, via email. “This is our home,” he maintained; “And we must continue to embody our roles as men and women for each other.”

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