November 15, 2012

Cornell Student Assembly Mulls Mandatory Rape Education Program for Orientation Week

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After a string of sexual assaults on campus this semester, the Student Assembly is considering asking the University to create a mandatory sexual assault and rape education training program for first-year students during Orientation Week.

If a proposed resolution is passed, the S.A. will ask the administration to develop a comprehensive personal safety program  focused on issues of consent as well as mental health and diversity. The program’s proponents say they would like to see the initiative implemented for the next incoming class in Fall 2013.

Freshmen arriving on campus are the least likely to have had honest, informative conversations about consensual sex compared to their older peers, said Geoffrey Block ’14, at-large representative to the S.A.

“Many individuals haven’t had social interactions with alcohol or such a diverse group of people before, so it is important to create guidelines on how the community should behave,” Block said.

Block presented the most recent version of the proposal at the S.A. meeting Thursday with co-sponsors Narda Terrones ’14, women’s issues representative to the S.A., At-Large Rep. Anisha Chopra ’13 and Melissa Lukasiewicz ’14, vice president of internal operations. The resolution did not go to vote and will be reassessed after its proponents meet with the Orientation Steering Committee, Block said.

Terrones said the OSC has expressed support for the idea of implementing a sexual assault education program for incoming freshmen. She said she believes that it should be done as soon as possible, preferably for the upcoming year.

She added that although there have been similar programs during Orientation Week in the past, they have never been mandatory or seen a high turnout of students.

The program will be modeled after the Tapestry program, which is the most well-attended event during Orientation Week, according to Chopra. At events held by Tapestry, students’ IDs are scaneed upon entry to ensure attendance, a model that the SA hopes to incorporate into the new program.

A lack of visibility surrounding the issues of sexual assault in the past resulted in people not taking them seriously enough to make such a program mandatory, according to Terrones. Now, the issue is at the forefront of the University’s consciousness.

“I personally think that it’s always been important,” she said. “It just takes a crisis for certain people to open their ears and their minds, which is tragic.”

The sponsors of the resolution said they are still considering whether the program would be most effective if given in a larger setting within orientation groups, or in smaller groups with resident advisors at the dorms.

Block said there is not just one ideal approach for how to properly educate everyone. He said he plans to work with Residential Programs to ensure that discussion of sexual assault becomes an ingrained part of the North Campus community.

“It doesn’t matter when the [mandatory] session is … it should be a constant conversation,” Block said. “You’ll still remember that you went to that session the next time you talk about sexual assault.”

Terrones echoed Block’s sentiments.

“It is all of our responsibility to continue the conversation and keep ourselves informed,” she said.

It is important to make sure that rape prevention is continually discussed throughout the Cornell experience in order to more rape, Block added.

“The worst thing to do would be to not acknowledge the problem. We need to make [first-year students] aware and allow them to explore it over their four years here at Cornell,” Block said.

Original Author: Dara Levy