New co-ed program tackles assault

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March 28, 2008

2:39 AM

After recent dialogue regarding plans for a co-education sexual assault program on campus, you’d think the Student Assembly was going off the deep end. This project has been billed as “dangerous” by some and depicted by others as hastily thrown together or poorly planned. While I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject matter or this particular initiative, there are some very clear misunderstandings floating around that need to be addressed.

First and foremost, this project has been extremely well researched, well staffed and carefully considered. There is absolutely no hint of impetuosity, and I doubt that the program needs, as a recent Flat Hat staff editorial claimed, “restructuring.” Members of the committee who have been working tirelessly on this proposal include the three SA undersecretaries for Sexual Assault Prevention and the SA undersecretary for Gender Affairs. Joining them are representatives from Every Two Minutes, One in Four, the Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention and Sexual Assault Peer Advocates, as well as Trisha Hunsaker ’03, the campus sexual assault educator and advisor for Every Two Minutes and SAPA. These are some of the most knowledgeable and passionate individuals on this campus when it comes to the issue of sexual assault, and their expertise and dedication shouldn’t be ignored.

Of course, the irony of this criticism is that people also claim the program hasn’t been established fast enough. While tracking progress is important in holding student leaders accountable for their responsibilities, the judgment this program has faced seems out of proportion. To take a handful of students and ask them to develop an entirely unique program addressing new concerns and issues relating to sexual assault, in one academic year, is a colossal undertaking. Even given these individuals’ commitment, comprehension and energy, this project has no precedent and cannot be expected to fall into place quickly and easily.

Critics of the program seem to want more or better research and planning (which seems ridiculous), as well as faster tangible results (which seems impossible). We really need to take a step back and assess this initiative comprehensively.

In addition to logistics, the actual premise of this program has also been called into question. While I don’t begrudge anyone his or her opinion on the matter, many of the concerns, again, seem to stem from a misunderstanding. This project was never intended to be a sexual assault primary prevention program, like Every Two Minutes or One in Four. Some have stated that most of the research in this field supports the effectiveness of single-sex primary prevention programs — I honestly have no idea if that’s true, but it is irrelevant to this discussion.

The co-ed program being developed through the SA, rather than addressing sexual assault directly, seeks to address surrounding issues like communication between partners, consent, the use of alcohol and power dynamics. Members of this committee have realized, like other students who have raised similar concerns, that in order to talk about sexual assault on college campuses we need to talk about the related social, cultural and gender-related issues.

The bottom line is that this program will in no way step on the toes of Every Two Minutes or One in Four. Those groups address sexual assault head-on, providing advice on how to help a friend, a comprehensive list of available resources and valuable statistics.

Because most assaults on college campuses happen between two individuals who know each other, and addressing situations and dynamics that college students face would also be beneficial. This program intends to supplement Every Two Minutes and One in Four’s amazing work with a broader conversation about the stereotypes, preconceptions, misunderstandings and actions that can lead to sexual assault.

Before we jump to conclusions about a still-developing project or question its validity and efficacy, we should wait for the committee to finalize its plans and debut the actual program. It may warrant constructive criticism, but it is unfair to disparage this initiative before it’s been given a chance.

Devan Barber is a senior at the College.

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