Michael Wenye Li / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Drew Lord '18 (right), IFC president, participates in focus group discussion during Wednesday's summit.

October 19, 2017

Summit on Sexual Assault Aims to Improve Campus Culture

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The Greek Tri-Council held a Summit on Sexual Assault on Wednesday to focus on sexual assault prevention in Cornell culture, with the conclusion that “the culture does really need to change,” said Luke Bianco ’19, one of the organizers.

Members from both within and outside the Cornell Greek community met in peer-moderated focus groups to discuss sexual assault at the individual, chapter and institutional level.

“Greek life is just a microcosm of Cornell culture, which is a microcosm of societal culture,” said Hannah Light-Olson ’18, president of Cornell Consent Ed.

The question then, she continued, is “how can we fix it in our little sphere?”

Many attendees talked about the importance of standing up against misogynistic, objectifying or otherwise harmful language in order to prevent escalation and a culture of permissiveness. Bianco, Interfraternity Council vice president for University and community relations, explained that to do so, we must look beyond the extremes.

“Generally, conversations on preventing sexual assault really only focus on the extremes: how do we stop predators, the worst of the worst? … If we’re only focused on that far end of the spectrum, we’re missing everything that leads up to that,” Bianco said.

In her group’s discussion of consent, Light-Olson suggested that such discussion is “unhelpful” when “people disassociate the conversations from the practice.”

What matters, she said, is that it goes beyond the “intellectual idea of consent” to discuss actual experiences.

“It’s what we’d tell our grandma versus what we’re doing in our real lives,” she said.

For many of the organizers and attendees, it was important to incite concrete discussion of actions that could improve the campus culture, particularly in the context of Greek life.

In some groups, the focus was institutional. Anna Brzozowski ’19, stressed the importance of Cornell “dealing with the issue and being honest with the issue” rather than “trying to hide it”

Taking too long to resolve issues, Brzozowski said, can become “dangerous,” and can make people hesitant to report an assault.

Other groups focused on actions at the chapter or individual level, from sober monitoring policies at parties to how to bring honest discussion of sexual violence to the dinner table.

Moderators also encouraged participants to consider the LGBTQ perspective — one that many said is often overlooked in a heteronormative Greek culture.

“Bystanders,” Sabrina Sugano ’19 said, “need to be checking in on people whether or not it’s your archetypal view of sexual assault is.”

Sugayano added that “sexual assault is not always between a man and a woman,” and encouraged members of her group to think about possible situations when warning signs of sexual assault might be overlooked in a non-heterosexual context.

The many themes that emerged from these various group discussions were brought together at the end of the summit in an open mic session that ultimately closed on the importance of pushing the discussion beyond the Willard Straight Hall gathering room.

“We all have to go back to our chapters, to our organizations, and have these conversations,” Josh Briscoe ’18 said.

These conversations, concluded Bianco, reflect that “change really does need to come from the bottom up.”

“We can push every single mandate in the books, but if you all as chapter leaders and campus leaders aren’t going to incorporate that into your personal lives, the culture will not change,” Bianco said.