Thursday, February 22, 2018

SGA hosts forum to discuss sexual assault on campus

CHRIS BULFINCH `18

STAFF WRITER

On Friday, Nov. 14, the Student Government Association (SGA) hosted a forum to discuss sexual assault on campus, asking students to think about this weighty issue, as well as to sign the “It’s On Us” pledge, a part of the larger “It’s On Us” campaign, a White House initiative to lower the staggering rate of sexual assault and other sexual violence on college campuses nationwide. The meeting, hosted in CineStudio, had sparse attendance but included an engaging and thought provoking discussion.

Campus sexual assault statistics have been highly publicized in recent years, and have become a major talking point not only in higher education but in modern political discourse as well. Legislations, such as Title IX, make into law the idea that all people have a right to participate in education, without regard to gender. Yet, no legislation can completely eliminate some of the thornier aspects of modern gender relations, sexual assault being one of the more prominent ones. Rape and sexual violence can be made illegal, but in a place where many adolescents and young adults are all living together with virtually unlimited access to drugs and alcohol, unfortunate and all too often illegal things are, to a point, going to occur. The “It’s On Us” campaign aims to raise awareness of the staggering rates of campus sexual assault and to have people commit to be more active in the fight against such terrible crimes as rape, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual violence.

The issue of sexual assault has created its own nomenclature. Phrases such as “active bystander,” “victim blaming,” and “if you see something, say something” have taken on new meaning within the lexicon of modern language and have become prominent features of the ongoing modern discussion of sexual assault. With all of the different buzzwords surrounding the topic, it becomes easy to lose sight of the heavy issues and tough situations that the campaign aims to mitigate.

Too often, issues are ignored or swept under the rug, as lines become blurred, and an attitude of “that doesn’t happen here” can pervade college campuses, making the environment right for such incident to occur with greater frequency, not less.

With this in mind, Trinity has been creating and expanding initiatives to address these issues. President Berger-Sweeney has founded a task force to work on such issues, the Women and Gender Resource Action Center, which has been operating since 1972, and most recently the SGA’s “It’s On Us” forum.

The forum itself was modestly successful, with a panel consisting of members from the SGA, WGRAC, and Students Encouraging Consensual Sex (SECS). The discussion lasted a little over an hour, covering a range of concerns about sexual assault on Trinity’s campus. The general feeling seems to be that while it is undoubtedly a facet of Trinity life, sexual assault is not quite as endemic here as it is on a national level. An unfortunately interesting statistic revealed at the forum was that Trinity had a total of thirty-seven reported incidents of sexual assault last year, somewhere between one and two percent of the population. This number is fairly low, but the upside to it is that a decent number of incidents are being reported. On a campus as small as Trinity’s, it is not terribly surprising that the rate might be somewhat lower than the national average. When most people know one another, it is harder for problems like sexual assault to go on unnoticed and unchecked. When the faculty–student relationships are close, and there are many administrators and faculty, there is more oversight and a lesser chance of issues falling through the cracks–it might be fair to say that the cracks themselves are not even as large, given these traits of a small campus.

The issue of sexual assault is still very grave, and is more than likely present on Trinity’s campus. The purpose of the forum was largely to begin a conversation, to open the issue for future discussion. The effectiveness of the conversation was hampered somewhat by the sparse attendance. Something in the neighborhood of 30 students were in attendance, and while any attendance is of course a boon to the discussion, SGA was disappointed that more students did not attend, simply to have a greater variety of opinions and perspectives and to get the message out to as large and broad an audience as possible. The modest attendance did, however, create a more personable setting, and a great discussion was had nonetheless. The small attendance could have been the result of many things, ranging from ineffective advertising to apathy towards the issue on campus.

The SGA’s “It’s On Us” forum was an opportunity for members of Trinity’s community to talk and think about an issue that may well come to define this generation. The conversation may have been small, but it is an eloquent testament to the concern that members of the Trinity community have about sexual assault. Now that the conversation has been opened, it only remains to be seen the innovation and passion that the community will bring to dealing with this timely and tragic issue.

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