How local colleges fight sexual assault on and off campus

Within the last year, the issue of campus rape has become a pressing issue in the news as a result of alleged cases in Columbia University and UVA (which was later refuted publicly). It has been estimated that 1 in 5 young women are raped during their freshman year alone. This has caused colleges across the U.S. to take action combatting sexual assault on campus, including Marist. Other local colleges have joined the fight as well, and appear to be doing more combatting this issue than Marist.

“I would definitely say that we could do a much better job about dressing sexual assault on campus. A lot of my friends that go to other schools have lots of talks and discussion groups about sexual assault, consent and those types of things,” explains junior Elizabeth Gassman. “There are a few events [that deal with the issue of sexual assault] on campus but it doesn’t feel like its enough to really spark change.”

The Health and Wellness Center at Marist, where Students can go in time of crisis

The Health and Wellness Center at Marist, where Students can go in time of crisis

Gassman wrote an article on Marist’s “It’s On Us” campaign last year for the Circle, which was a series of PSAs that aired last year on YouTube involving student athletes on campus as well as members of SGA and MCTV. The purpose of the campaign was to debunk myths about sexual assault and encourage students to take action on the issue any way they can. The campaign emerged after an alleged incident on campus back in February. 

An incident is currently being investigated that happened off-campus to a Dutchess Community College student. On the day of, DCC was hosting their “Take Back the Night” march on campus, which was part of a national day of awareness on the issue of violence against women. The event had a great turnout of at least 100 people, according to organizer Judi Stokes, who is Director of PR and Communications for DCC.

There was a week-long series of activities leading up to the march, including a campaign where students, faculty and staff were asked to make painted hand-prints explaining their connection to the issue of sexual assault. Of the campaign, Stokes says, “we discovered that some people, including faculty and staff, had been sexually assaulted before and it really opened up a conversation. People had divulged things that had never been divulged before.”

Stokes explains that the conversation does not end there, as Dutchess Community College has always made it a priority to educate students on the issue of sexual assault. “There is an ongoing conversation. In our student orientations, we have a segment where we discuss [the issue]. We also have ten safety tips displayed on the monitors [everywhere] on campus. [The tips] seem like things people already know (i.e. staying with a group every time you go out at night, keeping your drink at your side to avoid spiking), but we have to keep reinforcing it.” 

The Orcutt Center, which houses Counseling Services at Dutchess Community College

The Orcutt Center, which houses Counseling Services at Dutchess Community College

Stokes believes that in spite of the sufficient amount of work DCC does to fight against sexual assault, “we’re always looking for improvement. If we’re not then we’re not doing our job.” No mention was made of the incident that happened off-campus in nearby Fairview Avenue, but according to Marist’s Vice President and Dean for Student Affairs Deborah DiCaprio, the issue of off-campus rape is a greater concern than what happens on campus.

“Most of the parties that students go to in general are held off-campus, so we just gotta keep educating students on this issue,” she says. DiCaprio mentions that there is an online training program to train bystanders in the event of an assault that were handed out to freshmen during the first week of school, and 850 freshmen complied. The program will be handed out to upperclassmen within the next two weeks, according to DiCaprio.

In the past, DiCaprio says that they have “always done on-ground training, but not everyone show[ed] up.” An online program seemed to be a better way of reaching out to students for this reason. In addition to this training program, there are also workshops offered amongst fraternities, sororities, athletic teams and RAs on campus. DiCaprio believes that “education is basically what [all we can] do,” but other colleges such as Vassar College and SUNY New Paltz appear to have more comprehensive programs dealing with the issue of sexual assault on campus.

Vassar College has its own Sexual Assault Response Team (also known as SART) on campus, where trained Vassar faculty, staff, and administrators can provide you with support, help you access resources, or give you information about sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking. Students in crisis can reach out to a SART representative through a hotline. SART is one of many initiatives that is a part of the Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention Committee (or SAVP) at Vassar, which coordinates programs that seek to raise awareness on sexual assault amongst Vassar students, faculty and staff.

Jewett House at Vassar College, which houses SAVP

Jewett House at Vassar College, which houses SAVP

In addition to the programs and initiatives offered by SAVP, Vassar also hosts the improve comedy troupe Speak About It every year during their freshmen orientation. The Maine-based troupe has performed at colleges nationwide and aims to provide a humorous look at controversial issues such as rape and domestic violence. They also performed at Dutchess Community College last month as part of the series of events that culminated in the “Take Back the Night” march.

At SUNY New Paltz, different departments go out of their way to educate students on the issue as well. David Dugatkin is the Chief of Police on campus, and he believes that raising awareness of the problem is key to ultimately preventing it. “[There are] lots of layers we have in place [regarding sexual assault prevention on campus]. We have general awareness training for freshmen and transfer students as well as residence life training.” Dugtakin encourages students to report first to campus police when involved in a crisis. “The victim may feel uncomfortable or guilty in the event that they have to report to town police, and so we want to make sure that that’s not the case.”

Town/city police, however, also want to make sure that they are there for students who are dealing with a crisis. Sgt. Gary Hulbert is the Community Policing Officer for the Town of Poughkeepsie Police Department, and he says that the PD works with local colleges constantly to  “team up and coordinate trainings with them.” He adds that there will be “more collaboration, especially with recent laws that are being passed in New York.”

He is of course referring to the “Enough is Enough” Law that was recently passed in New York State, which requires all colleges in New York State to adopt a set of comprehensive procedures and guidelines, including a uniform definition of affirmative consent, a statewide amnesty policy, and expanded access to law enforcement to ensure the safety of all students attending colleges in New York State.

The law was initially established amongst SUNY campuses, but will now expand to universities statewide. It is one of the most aggressive and comprehensive measures passed on a state level dealing with the issue of sexual assault on campus. The law is a game-changer that will hopefully affect change for an issue that affects every single one of us as college students.

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