May 1, 2014
This past week, a number of student-led initiatives have sought to foster a safer, healthier and more tolerant community. On Sunday, the Class of 2014 helped sponsor the AIDS Hike for Life, which had over 300 participants and raised over $38,000 for AIDS research. The next day, a group of students, faculty and administrators held the Walk for Solidarity, during which students shared their experiences of discrimination at Hamilton. Also, on Wednesday, Student Assembly hosted its second town hall about diversity and inclusion on campus.
Yet, the largest series of positive events this last week were undoubtedly those stemming from Sexual Assault Awareness Week (SAAW). In KJ, t-shirts representing sexual assault survivors adorned the atrium as part of the nationwide Clothesline Project. Last Wednesday, Hamilton SAVES (Sexual Assault and Violence Education & Support) held its annual speak-out in the Glen House for students to share stories and discuss sexual assault and harassment on campuses. Then, on Friday, student-athletes gathered in front of Soper Commons during prime lunch hours to read stories of sexual assault. This gesture is particularly important, as, according to a Jeff Benedict study, one in three college sexual assaults is committed by an athlete. The events continued into this week, with two Hamilton students giving a presentation about hooking up and consent this Wednesday.
In light of all these well-publicized events, though, a critical question remains: Is Hamilton doing enough to prevent sexual assault? Given the national attention this issue has received—President Obama recently released guidelines increasing the pressure on colleges to aggressively combat sexual assaul—and the shocking nationwide statistics—a White House panel found that one in five college females has experienced sexual assault but that only 12 percent of assaults are reported—it is clear Hamilton cannot stand on the sidelines. In fact, SAVES surveyed 500 Hamilton students in the fall, revealing that 100 of the respondents had experienced sexual assault and that 40 percent of those surveyed were not sure if sexual assault was a major problem on campus.
Besides the aforementioned SAAW, which is organized by students, the administration has taken important steps in recent years to address sexual assault. In addition to mandatory orientation sessions about the definition of consent, Dean of Students Nancy Thompson sends all-campus emails when sexual assaults occur, the Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Board publishes widespread information about steps to take after a sexual assault occurs and SAVES trains peer advocates to guide sexual assault survivors.
Still, the school--both students and administrators--can do more. The White House survey found that not all sexual assault prevention programs are created equal. Hamilton should learn from the most effective school programs; at the University of New Hampshire, witnesses learn to intervene if they observe the tell-tale signs of a potential sexual assault, such as heavily intoxicated individuals. In addition, Hamilton should move away from videos and descriptions that use generic situations and, instead, use real stories from those in the Hamilton community, like those shared in the SAVES speak-out.
The most important cultural change Hamilton can make, however, is seeing sexual assault awareness as more than a week-long series of events. Rather, it should be prevalent in the campus dialogue 365 days a year.