Sexual assault forum attempts to change DePauw climate

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The entire campus received an email on Jan. 28 inviting them to discuss sexual assault and harassment. Only five students attended the upperclassmen forum on Tuesday in Meharry Hall. 

The email from Vice President of Academic Life Alan Hill and Title IX Coordinator Renee Madison was the first demonstration of the administration’s attempt to educate students on campus about sexual assault and harassment, as well as their resources on campus. Hill and Madison said it was important that they kick off the spring semester by discussing these issues.

“We always want to make sure we are proactive in doing so… Renee and I partnered with Deedie Dowdle [vice president for marketing and communications] in our communications office and thought it was important to get our message to our students,” said Hill.

The parents of current DePauw students received a similar email from President Mark McCoy and will receive a letter in the mail as well. The email called on parents to remind their “sons and daughters about DePauw’s core values, especially regarding respect for themselves and others.”

Hill and Madison decided to conduct two separate forums, one for upperclassmen Tuesday and one for first-year students on Thursday.

Dean of Students Myrna Hernandez, Hill, and Madison facilitated Tuesday’s forum, which focused on discussions of how students approach the topic of sexual assault and harassment as well as ways DePauw can improve students’ awareness to these issues.

Junior Josh Selke is happy that the administration is bringing up this topic because they believe it is a conversation DePauw needs to have. “What I’m hoping for from that [the forums] is that they are listening and taking notes in whatever capacity that means and think of what policies they should enact because of this,” Selke said.

Hill said the administration decided to separate the upperclassmen from the first-year students because both groups have different experiences due to their more recent arrival on campus, and to make sure that first-years feel comfortable. “I think it’s important,” said Hill, “to make sure that we continue to emphasize and provide a space for first-year students who wouldn’t feel comfortable asking questions or talking.”

Hill called on upperclassmen to take on more responsibility for what happens in the community with regards to sexual assault and harassment. “We have to have expectations of students to be a part of this, it can’t just be our administration. . .” said Hill, “ . . .at the end of the day, we hope the students take full advantage and push us to continue to do more if we have to.”

Junior Sabrina Straessle asked why there are not more visible examples of support for victims of sexual assault and harassment on campus. “It just feels like no one is on your side, or that you are in the wrong, which victims should never feel,” Straessle said.  

Apart from the forums, there will also be a new online educational tool to educate students similar to the current online program that first-years have to complete before attending DePauw.

The forums and the online model are the first steps the administration will take this semester to prevent sexual assault and harassment through education. “We will continue to discuss some additional education and training opportunities,” said Madison.

After a student has been sexually assaulted, they can report it to the Title IX offices, Sexual Assault Survivor Advocate (SASA), an anonymous reporting form found on DePauw’s website, or Public Safety.

The Annual Security Report and Fire Safety Report, also known as the Clery Report, contains the number of reported crimes, and is submitted to the federal government, as required by law, on Oct. 1. The report is prepared with the local law enforcement agencies surrounding DePauw, Campus Living and Community Development, Community Standards, the Office of Student Academic Life, and Facilities Management.

From 2015 to 2016 there was a slight increase in reported rapes, fondling, dating violence, and stalking. While there were 11 reported rapes and six reported cases of fondling in 2015, there were 12 reported rapes and seven reported cases of fondling in 2016. The Annual Security Report and Fire Safety Report defines fondling as “the touching of the private body parts of another person for the purpose of sexual gratification, without the consent of the victim.”

The number of reported cases of dating violence doubled with three people in 2015 and six people in 2016 while the number of reported stalking cases tripled with zero people in 2015 and three people in 2016.

Madison explained the two reasons why the amount of cases in those categories increased. One may have been because of the administration’s efforts to make students aware of the resources on campus. In addition, Madison said that Title IX changed their model for the type of investigation they conduct. Title IX changed their procedure from an investigation focused on hearings to the single process model, where fewer people are involved in hearing the report of assault or abuse. “Whether you are being accused or whether you have experienced the trauma, you want to limit who you have to tell that to so we went to a single process model,” said Madison.

She said that other institutions also saw a significant increase in the number of reports related to sexual assault and harassment after they moved to the single process model.

At the forum on Tuesday, Madison said that her office received 31 reports during the 2017 fall semester, of which seven are reported rapes. She said that the numbers of last semester have not been drastically different from previous years. “However, one rape is too many rapes,” said Madison  

Although students do not always feel comfortable coming forward to report when they have been sexually assaulted or harassed.

It took a year for an upperclassman who prefers to remain anonymous to tell anyone about being sexually assaulted because they felt that no one could understand what had happened to them. They were also unsure because, while the assault was done by a student from DePauw, it did not happen on campus.

“I woke up the next morning and pretended it never happened because no one knew,” said the student.

They decided to report the incident because the next semester they were in a class with the perpetrator, and their presence was affecting their grades. After they went to the Title IX offices and went through part of the process, they were moved from that class.

Madison stated that because they have to conduct an investigation, the first steps the Title IX office takes are to prevent any interaction between the students involved. “The number one goal is to ensure that our students are academically successful, and we know that trauma impacts academic success and so what kind of support can we provide to a student as they are trying to grapple with an experience of trauma,” Madison said.  

However, the student said they do not really know what happened after they were moved from the class because they did not see their perpetrator again. “Ultimately, I got what I wanted, but I don’t know how I got it.”

Selke thinks part of the reason why students may not be so willing to report their experiences to the Title IX office may be because of the legal restrictions the office has in terms of transparency. “I get why there isn’t transparency, but the lack of transparency makes it hard to trust Title IX.”

Ultimately, Hill, Madison, the student, Selke and Straessle all argued that everyone on campus needs to do more to raise awareness on sexual assault and harassment as well as help victims. “It is what it is and there are people out there that you can’t trust,” said Straessle, “but I think it is important that we have each other’s back, and that we are not afraid to speak up or to help someone that we feel is in a dangerous situation.”