Administrators talk sexual misconduct

LEON SANTHAKUMAR/Photography Editor Last January, Alyse Campbell participated in a forum on sexual misconduct attended by students.

LEON SANTHAKUMAR/Photography Editor
Last January, Alyse Campbell participated in a forum on sexual misconduct attended by students.

By ABBY BIESMAN
News & Features Editor

Universities throughout the nation, including Hopkins, are implementing measures to combat sexual misconduct. In light of the pervasive problem, the University has been working on developing policies and programs to minimize sexual misconduct.
Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kevin G. Shollenberger discussed the University’s approach to tackling sexual misconduct.

The initiative is two-pronged: One element involves assessing systems, policies and procedures as well as how the University reports and responds to incidents of sexual misconduct. The second is changing the environment and culture surrounding sexual misconduct.

“How do we empower people to have the conversations around this and to speak out?” Shollenberger said. “You need to have the University willing to make systematic changes, while at the same time empowering students to have those conversations with each other.”

Shollenberger explained that people are influenced by suggestions from society that promote a culture of sexual misconduct.

This misinformation trivializes rape and the role of women in society, and it contributes to the sexual objectification of women, LGBTQ people and people of color. He believes that universities are in a position to educate students and to challenge preconceived notions.

Sexual Assault Prevention, Education and Response Coordinator for the Center for Health Education and Wellness (CHEW) Alyse Campbell said that this conversation is valuable to have on campus and with the greater community.

“College campuses offer a unique place for survivors to interact with each other and to talk with each other and to realize that they are not alone,” she said.

In August, the administration updated the University’s Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures. At a dinner with the Student Government Association (SGA) on Tuesday, one issue discussed was the possibility of hosting another forum to gather feedback on the policy and sexual misconduct.

Shollenberger said that he has received some positive feedback from students. The administration also has received feedback about the security alerts regarding sexual misconduct, which often include safety tips. Many students and faculty members pointed out that the tips focused on avoiding situations where one is more susceptible to sexual misconduct. The respondents were concerned that the wording had a connotation that blames victims for sexual misconduct.

“Our intention certainly was [that] we want people to stay safe,” Shollenberger said. “I still think those are good tips, but I can see how that feeds into victim-blaming.”

In a campus security alert sent on Oct. 9, a student reported an alleged drugging at the Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp) fraternity house, and a possible sexual misconduct at an undetermined location. Shollenberger discussed whether there would there would be consequences for the fraternity.

“It’s kind of premature to say. The Office of Institutional Equity is still doing their investigation, so until we get the results of that investigation and what the outcomes are, I’m not really in a position to say what the implications are to the actual fraternity,” Shollenberger said.

Sophomore Katelyn Billings discussed how she views how sexual misconduct has been handled.

“Each and every time I get an email, it’s about a Greek organization,” Billings wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “I find it incredibly unlikely that all of the sexual violence that happens on this campus is related to Greek Life.”

Sophomore Melissa Paton agrees that this is not just an issue that pertains to Greek life.

“The University should stress that it’s not just on fraternities to make sure drugs don’t get into their drinks, and it’s not just up to students to make sure their partner is consenting… Fraternities are now discouraged from getting help and reporting assault on their properties for fear of suspension or other punitive measures for underage drinking,” Paton wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “Something I really wish was stressed more is the importance of personal responsibility and bystander intervention.”

One source of programming the University has implemented is Bystander Intervention Training (BIT). Students involved in the Sexual Violence Advisory Committee (SVAC) and SGA approached the administration with the idea, and the program was piloted last year. During the last school year, 800 students participated, including all students who were serving as resident advisors (RAs) and first year mentors.

This year, all freshmen will go through this training. It is comprised of two two-and-a-half hour sessions, run by students, over two weeks. The training discusses how bystanders can intervene if they see a potential sexual misconduct, as well as broader issues about sexual misconduct.

Shollenberger said that the overall aim of the sessions is to create a cultural shift that reduces the number of instances of sexual misconduct.

“It is about interrupting what a lot of literature calls microaggresions – those attitudes, those comments that feed into or maybe trivialize rape or are sexist in nature,” Shollenberger said. “I think that’s a really important part of the training.”

Campbell supervises all the sessions.

“We want to reduce those situations of people having to intervene in immediate situations at all,” Campbell said. “What we want students to walk away with is understanding that while there’s a small percentage of people in this world who may commit gender violence, we are all part of a community that allows it to happen.”

Campbell stressed that sexual misconduct becomes acceptable through the trivialization of sexist or rape jokes and gender insulting language. The fact that people, in general, do not speak out against this trivialization is part of what might make sexual misconduct seem permissible or typical, according to Campbell.

She believes that BIT provides a space for people to discuss this issue.

“One of the most awesome things about BIT that I hadn’t really anticipated was that this semester, the freshmen that are coming in, they already sort of seem to get it,” Campbell said. “What’s really interesting is that in the conversations we’re having, you get to see everybody realizing that everybody else is getting it and then giving each other permission to have these conversations and to interrupt microaggressions that make them uncomfortable.”

The University begins educating students during Orientation Week.

During orientation every year, the University includes a program to teach students about sexual misconduct on campus, how to combat it and how to support survivors.

This year, Hopkins invited Tim Mousseau, a member of CAMPUSPEAK who discussed sexual misconduct prevention.

“He really just opened the discussion to challenge what people thought sexual assault looked like,” Campbell said. “He came and did a presentation about what a culture that’s permissive of sexual assault looks like for survivors, and how the audience can relate to survivors.”

To create an overall more supportive and safe culture for all students, the University recently hired Dr. Jeannine Heynes, who will serve in the new position of Director of Gender Equity. Heynes, who has a PhD in Women’s Studies, will begin Nov. 18.

Heynes’s main role will be to support women on campus, look at gender-based inequalities and help facilitate a broader conversation about gender that Shollenberger agrees is necessary.

“I would like to see conversations happening around masculinity and what it means to be a man,” Shollenberger said. “I know there’s been some work done, but I would love to see more work done around men against rape and men against sexual violence.”

 

Correction: The article previously paraphrased Vice Provost Shollenberger to describe the overall goals of Bystander Intervention Training, saying that the aim is “to create a cultural shift that minimizes the number of cases of reported and unreported sexual misconduct.” Shollenberger has clarified that the University does not wish to discourage students in any way from reporting instances of sexual misconduct, but rather hopes to decrease the overall incidence. The sentence has been updated to correct the wording.

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