October 30, 2014

Campaign Addresses Sexual Violence at Cornell

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A campaign was held on campus this week with students voicing the need for sexual violence at Cornell to end, distributing printed material and drafting an open letter to President-Elect Elizabeth Garrett that has received hundreds of student signatures.

The campaign — created in a partnership between Vox: Voices for Planned Parenthood, a student advocacy group affiliated with Planned Parenthood, and the Cornell Women’s Resource Center — aims to motivate the Cornell community to openly discuss sexual violence, according to Katharine Poor ’16, president of Vox.

“It’s such a taboo topic and people are often afraid just to discuss it with their friends and everything for fear of being judged or misunderstood,” said Cassidy Clark ’17, a member of Vox’s executive board. “I think the focus of this campaign is really to get people talking about the issue.”

The campaign began Monday with a canvassing of the campus with posters that included a list of eight “little interventions you can do to help topple systems here that perpetuate sexual violence,” challenging readers to take action, according to Poor.

A central part of the campaign is an online petition addressed to President-Elect Elizabeth Garrett. The letter, which urges Garrett to prioritize issues of sexual assault, campus safety and women’s equality when she assumes the presidency in July, had 455 online signatures as of Thursday night.

“A lot of people think it’s really important that we’re also trying to engage Cornell’s administration because there are so many questions lately about how universities handle sexual assault,” Clark said. “We believe that the new president has the same goals as us in terms of eradicating sexual assault and we hope to be able to partner as students with her and the administration with the goal of ending rape culture.”

Poor added that Vox appreciates President David Skorton’s efforts in confronting sexual violence, lauding the fact that Cornell is not among the several universities currently under scrutiny for violating Title IX, but maintains that the continued prevalence of sexual crime demands attention.

“We have to wonder how effective these new systems are and what we can really do to make really effective change because people are still not safe and people are still being hurt every day on this campus,” she said.

According to Poor, the student community is the most fundamental part of actualizing a shift in sexual culture.

“In the brainstorming process before this project, we talked about how some of the most efficacious social change can take place on the peer-to-peer level,” Poor said. “Your peers’ opinions are some of the most important in changing your mindset.”

Students have already responded to the initiative — especially after two submissions about the campaign were posted on the Facebook page “Overheard at Cornell” — according to Vox Treasurer Lauren Cooley ’17.

“[It is encouraging to see] other people, whose names I had never seen before … commenting and having this really organic discussion,” Cooley said.

According to Poor, a particularly meaningful response came from a student who sent an email saying they felt “supported as a survivor on Cornell’s campus.”

Clark said she is optimistic that the campaign has helped the cause gain traction.

“I think it’s really encouraging that people are trying to seek the knowledge about sexual assault,” Clark said. “We understand that … toppling systems of oppression and violence is going to be a long process.”

According to Clark, although immediate policy changes might be necessary to restructure campus culture, “there also needs to be a change within the attitudes and the dialogues that go on amongst students and faculty here.”

Poor offered a similar sentiment.

“On the peer-to-peer level, on the grassroots-organizing level, we can make a really big change in addition to the work of the administration, but we have to work together,” she said.