April 2, 2012

Students Seek to Raise Awareness of Sexual Assaults on Campus

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Students and University administrators discussed the rise in reported sexual assaults on campus at a dinner in the Duffield Hall Atrium on Friday. The event, part of the Dining with Diverse Leaders series, featured a performance and speeches from several Cornell officials.

The dinner, titled “No More Silence, No More Violence: Sexual Assault at Cornell” was sponsored by Cornell Minds Matter in coordination with the African Latino Asian Native American Students Programming Board and the Cornell Women’s Resource Center. It featured a performance by Ordinary People, a student theatre troupe aimed at raising awareness about oppression, as well as speeches from the president of the Women’s Resource Center, the Judicial Administrator, Cornell’s Title IX coordinator, and a senior representative of Wingman 101, Gannett’s all-male bystander-intervention program.

135 students from various campus organizations, along with several Cornell administrators, were invited invited students from various organizations to discuss the issue of sexual assault on campus in an hour-long table discussion.

The event was prompted by a rise in the number of reported sexual assaults on campus in the past year. As a result, sexual violence has become more salient in the minds of Cornellians, according to the event’s coordinators.

Twelve cases of alleged sexual assault have gone before the Judicial Administrator this year — a record number at Cornell, according to Judicial Administrator Mary Beth Grant J.D. ’88.

However, that number is trivial when compared with the 20 to 25 percent of college women who are reportedly sexually assaulted while attending college, according to the US Department of Education.

Raising awareness about sexual assault and reducing the stigma associated with being a victim of sexual assault were central points throughout the evening’s speeches and discussion.

“Being here is the first step to breaking the silence,” said Eva Drago ’13, president of the Cornell Women’s Resource Center. She noted that the timing of the event was meant to coincide with the fact that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Grant commended the victims of sexual assault who have been brave enough to come forward with their stories, as well as the student groups who have provided education and helped to give them a voice.

“It is my firm belief that raising our voices together is the first step towards eliminating sexual violence on campus,” Grant said in her speech.

This year, several new initiatives dealing with the issue of sexual assault on campus have sprung up online.

For example, the Every1 Campaign has used a variety of media to generate conversation and change campus culture around these issues. The group recently launched a photo campaign and posted a video online.

Additionally, a new website called Break the Silence at Cornell publishes stories anonymously submitted by victims of sexual assaults.

“I remember that I never used to be afraid of sharing things, of men, of sex. I thought I was immune. I thought I was safe. I was at Cornell,” reads one submission from March 27.

Break the Silence was started by students at Vassar College in 2011, while the Cornell edition of the website was launched in January of this year, according to Alexis Boytsov ’12, who is involved with the website.

“Getting involved can take as little as sharing one story,” Boytsov said.

The Student Assembly will also look to collaborate in the coming year with the Women’s Resource Center and other student organizations that aim to raise awareness about sexual assault on campus, according to Adam Gitlin ’13, S.A. Executive Vice President, who attended the event.

The administration is working in tandem with these efforts to create a system to make it easier for individuals to report sexual assault, according to Lynette Chappell-Williams, Associate Vice President for Inclusion and Workforce Diversity and Director of the Office of Workforce Diversity, Equity and Life Quality.

“We want to give them as many opportunities as possible for reporting,” Chappell-Williams said.

According to Chappell-Williams, Cornell uses Maxient, an online reporting system that receives assault incident reports and tracks behavioral issues. The University also maintains an email address where students, faculty and staff are able to send in their concerns and be put into contact with a University staff members, according to Chappell-Williams.

Additionally, in compliance with the “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the U.S. Department of Education in Aprill 2011, Cornell has recently lowered its burden of proof for sexual assault cases. The new standard, based on “a preponderance of evidence,” makes it easier for accusers to win their cases.

Original Author: Danielle Sochaczevski