Anna Lee ‘24
***TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT/TRAUMA
For many students, the College of the Holy Cross’s Gateways Orientation program is a first step in getting acquainted with the campus. Students can expect to explore facilities, spread out on the Hoval green and play icebreaker games, and ponder the opportunities proposed to them for the next four years. Friends are made, laughs are exchanged, and the future is promising and optimistic . . . but for some students, college is anything but.
In August 2021, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s (UNL) chapter of Phi Gamma Delta grabbed national attention when a fraternity member sexually assaulted a minor after the first day of classes. Following a series of protests that led to the fraternity’s suspension, discussions about accountability and education on sexual awareness began trending on media platforms. But after the platforms went quiet and other political concerns took the place of the incident at UNL, the world had the privilege to forget an incident that will live with someone else forever.
This is a common trend when traumatic incidents take place – they seize social media and peter out when real action is considered. As a result, little momentum can ever be created for systemic change to unfold. For example, the founder of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke, launched the #TeachThem campaign in an effort to implement sexual violence education earlier on in the American schools pipeline. But compared to the global awareness that #MeToo has garnered, #TeachThem has been met with meager enthusiasm and sparse coverage. Unfortunately, #TeachThem is not the only sexual education initiative that has been carried out at a painfully slow rate – the idea is appealing, but many institutions lack the bandwidth to incorporate it into the curriculum.
Like any institution, Holy Cross cannot completely expel incidents of harassment, assault, or hate. With a plethora of external incidents, a series of equally concerning incidents emerge from the campus community itself. For example, Holy Cross made national headlines in 2019 when allegations of sexual assault were brought against faculty, although a formal investigation was not launched until May 2021. There have also been decades-long patterns of homophobic assaults, race-related actions, and a series of incidents against women, targetting various factions of the student body since the College’s establishment. All of these incidents are met with delayed or lax responses – a formulae email, solutions made without the input of the people affected by them, a call to action that regresses as people forget and time goes on. Such responses fail to address the root of the problem – a culture that doesn’t see these problems as a concern because secondary and post-secondary education never discussed them.
At the moment, Holy Cross offers virtual modules centered around topics like sexual violence, drinking repsonsibly, and ally training for incoming students. However, the nature of the virtual training isn’t as effective. The Forbes Human Resources Council proposes three prerequisites to any equally effective online training: 1) short increments, 2) highly interactive, and 3) practical application. Considering the lengthy modules, limited interaction with computer-generated questions, and lack of practical application, the virtual method is not nearly as effective as it would be in-person.
In regards to these proposed issues, opting for sexual awareness and critical-race theory modules during Gateways Orientation could be a necessary first step to break cycles of assault and hate-fueled incidents. This solution has a three-fold effect, which takes into account the constraints of orientation and the shock of sexual awareness education.
First, learning about safety resources on campus allows students to access them immediately, instead of seeking them independently. In case an incident does take place, students know where to access the right resources instead of spending the traumatic period after the incident searching for those resources. So informing students about the RAVE Guardian app, the blue-light system on campus (and where they’re located), and the locations and report system for harassment reports can mitigate much of the agony spent in figuring it out alone.
Second, Orientation can still retain its original purpose without compromising other activities for students. There will still be ample opportunities to socialize, discuss, and learn about facilities throughout the four days before fall semester. However, when comparing the benefits of sexual awareness education to learning about the layout of Hogan Campus Center, it seems sacrificing a tour or two wouldn’t do much harm.
Third, incorporating sexual awareness education in Orientation immediately shows to incoming students and (potential) perpetrators that Holy Cross takes traumatic incidents seriously. When regulations are more strictly enforced, fear of repercussions may dissuade students or faculty who might feel inclined to commit these acts. Ultimately, the motivation behind not doing these acts should be an ethical one, which can be helped through other changes in education. However, fear of punishment can be a temporary solution before more educational practices are put in place.
In addition, sexual awareness topics during Orientation may help students be a bit more vigilant about their surroundings. Many Holy Cross students come from sheltered backgrounds that may look like, but do not reflect, the Holy Cross campus. Therefore, bringing a friend at night, keeping an eye on an uncovered cup, or staying away from incident-heavy areas could help students avoid potentially traumatizing incidents early on. For those who might take advantage of incoming students’ excitement and naivete, education on these issues could make doing this more difficult.
The ability to learn about sexual awareness is in itself a privilege. For those who cannot attend college, education in elementary or secondary systems of schooling are all the exposure they’ll get. For people who could never attend school at all, community culture and intervention are their sources of education. Therefore, putting an emphasis on sexual awareness education at Holy Cross should be considered across all communities and secondary education systems. In doing so, a traumatic experience can be avoided, a perpetrator can be dissuaded, and a complicit culture can be changed.