September 30, 2012

Students to Cornell: Sexual Assault Victims Need More Help

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In a meeting with administrators Friday, students called on Cornell to improve the publicity of existing resources for victims of sexual assaults and ask for more transparency from the administration about its response to recent sexual crimes that have occurred on campus.

The meeting had been planned since last semester, according to Lynette Chappell-Williams, associate vice president for workforce diversity and inclusion. However, in the aftermath of multiple reported sexual assaults, including a reported attempted rape Wednesday evening, the meeting attracted more than 100 students — far more than organizers had expected, Chappell-Williams said.

“Our goal today was to start with the demands put forth by some students in previous settings,” said Laura Weiss, director of the Women’s Resource Center. “We felt [the demands] to be a starting point for what we need to do and where we need to go as a community in the future.”

But some students in attendance demanded more immediate action.

“What is happening tonight?” shouted one student as Weiss addressed the group. “What is [the Cornell University Police Department] doing to protect us tonight?”David Honan, deputy chief of CUPD, said that police forces will be augmented in light of the recent crime reports.“For tonight, regular patrols will be increased,” Honan said. “There will be extra officers on foot and bike. I’ve also added to auxiliary patrols. There will be a noticeable increase in [police] visibility tonight.”He added that the increased patrols will continue as long as necessary.“We want to have a lot of people all over campus to see what is happening,” he said.After Weiss’ introduction, students divided into working groups of about 20 people each to discuss potential solutions to the increased number of reported sexual assaults. Many students emphasized a need for more transparency about the administration’s response to the attacks.“I think Cornell is really decentralized,” said Oscar Correia ’14, president of La Asociación Latina. “If the University is doing things and we don’t know about it, that’s a problem.”Other students said the University has not suffciently made students aware of the resources that are already available to sexual assault victims.“The tension here is around publicity,” said Tom Moore ’14, who is also an opinion columnist for The Sun. “There may be a number of well-coordinated and well-done [programs in place], but a lot of the publicity is flat-out bad.”Sharon Dittman, associate director for community relations for Gannett Health Services, said the University has already addressed many of the demands that students have made to the administration, including increased involvement of law enforcement and judicial board action in the aftermath of sexual crimes.“You can talk to all kinds of people on this campus [about a sexual assault],” she said.But Rachael Blumenthal ’13, a member of the WRC advisory board, said the University offers too many resources for victims –– which she said can be confusing for students who are unsure of the appropriate outlet at which to seek help.“The demand is that there should be a [sexual assaults] response center, a specific resource that students can use,” she said.But Dittman defended the necessity of the varied resources offered by the University.“One single resource isn’t going to work for everyone,” she said. “I am as frustrated as everyone that we can’t have one website, one number, one office. Yet that also makes it less accommodating of who we are and all of our diversity.”Blumenthal, however, said some of the resources that are currently available to students do not serve their intended purposes.Other students said the sexual assaults on campus can be attributed to ambiguity about the definition of sexual consent.“We need to talk about what we consider rape culture,” said Hilary Orzick ’13, a WRC advisory board member. “You cannot legally give consent if you are inebriated. The next day, these people are often not able to vocalize that that was a sexual assault … This is a problem.”To address the issue, Geoffrey Block ’14, at-large representative for the Student Assembly, said the S.A. hopes to implement educational programs for all incoming students regarding the definition of consensual sex.“Too many people think silence means yes,” he said.Alan Mittman, director of the Office of Workforce Policy and Labor Relations, said the University is also training faculty and staff about sexual violence.“We have already trained 1,300 employees on anti-sexual harassment and assault matters,” he said. “We hope to get to everyone by the end of the year.”Despite the steps already taken, organizers emphasized the need for further progress, promising to hold additional open meetings in the future.“This is first step in taking action in our community,” Weiss said. “We are recognizing experiences of survivors. I hope this will empower us to take action, to stand against the people committing these crimes, who are making this space unsafe for all of us.”

Original Author: Kerry Close