On Friday, October 14, Colgate faculty, staff, administrators and students gathered in the Curtis lounge to celebrate the opening of Haven, the new sexual assault response center on campus, located in the garden level of Curtis Hall. The opening of Haven marks the first anniversary of the 2015 protest and speak-out outside of the Center for Women’s Studies. Through its programming and convenient location “up the hill,” Haven seeks to respond to student demands that Colgate take a survivor-focused approach to combat sexual assault on campus.
In the fall of 2015, members of Colgate Forward and the Association of Critical Collegians (ACC) came together to form a human chain around the Center for Women’s Studies. Over 200 students joined the chain, which effectively blocked administration from entering the building, where a campus-led discussion with former Dean of the College Suzy Nelson and former Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Scott Brown was scheduled to be held.
The discussion between students and Nelson had been planned to focus on the findings of the Higher Education Data Sharing (HEDS) Consortium’s Sexual Assault Climate Survey, which Colgate had conducted in the spring of 2015. The protest was followed by a discussion in the Colgate Memorial Chapel. Over 600 members of the Colgate community listened as survivors told their personal stories of sexual assault on Colgate’s campus.
As she welcomed community members to the Haven opening, Assistant Director of Survivor Support Services Denise Contreras paid tribute to the student efforts to change Colgate’s approach to on-campus incidences of sexual assault.
“This moment allowed all of us as a community today to hear these students [talk] about opportunities of support, accountability and, most importantly, change. It is my honor and my privilege to be here today and to open these doors for students and for those who wish to support and make change today and try to [not only] heal the past but also heal those and support those in our futures,” Contreras said.
Next, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services and Director of Sexual Violence Support Dawn LaFrance approached the podium. After thanking attendees for joining in the celebration of Haven’s opening, LaFrance outlined Haven’s mission statement and purpose at Colgate.
“We envision a center that leads efforts in sexual assault response, education and prevention; a place that is safe for those affected by trauma. Trauma comes in many forms, and we are prepared to acknowledge the various ways that it is experienced. As an extension of Colgate’s Counseling Center, we will utilize trauma-focused informed interventions and practices, including confidential care, support and therapy,” LaFrance said.
Haven has already started its work on campus, as its staff designs and implements programs and services to promote positive social change at Colgate.
“We will deliberately address the intersections of sexual violence and other forms of oppression. As members of the shared Colgate community, I believe that we all have a responsibility to one another – to help give voice to the silence and listen to pain when it is experienced,” LaFrance said.
LaFrance concluded by sharing her hopes for community involvement in the center’s work.
“Now that we have this space, I hope we will continue to join with you all to move forward. Haven is a community space and the work that is centralized there needs to be shared by our entire community. We all need to take part in this positive change,” LaFrance said.
After these opening remarks, Assistant Dean and Director of LGBTQ Initiative khristian kemp-delisser approached the podium. Turning to the audience gathered in the Curtis lounge, kemp-delisser explained that he had been asked to read a note from Nelson addressing the opening of Haven.
In her note, Nelson discussed her role in the founding of Haven during her time as Dean of the College. “While I and many others had a role in facilitating this, it was the voice of Colgate students that made this come to fruition. I am proud to have served as Dean during this time and grateful for the collective wisdom and partnership that resulted in Haven’s founding. I am also thankful for the faculty, staff, students and trustees who helped to make the Haven program and used space possible. I know that Colgate’s campus will be a better place for the hard work,” Nelson said.
After he read Nelson’s note, kemp-delisser added his own remarks. kemp-delisser explained that, although he had woken up sick, attending the opening of Haven was a priority to him.“I think that presence is so important,” kemp-delisser said. “Bodies matter. And putting your bodies on the line matters.”
As he discussed the importance of Haven to the Colgate community, kemp-delisser referenced the human chain of over 200 community members that surrounded the Center for Women’s Studies in 2015.
“They put their bodies on the line and said, ‘We are going to take control of the narrative. Remember that we are people, and not numbers. We are voices, and not quotes.’ I feel as though I need to honor them by bringing my sick body here to talk to you all today and share,” kemp-delisser said.
kemp-delisser concluded his remarks with his hopes for Haven as it takes a survivor-centric approach to addressing sexual assault at Colgate.
“I am looking at a beloved community right now, and my hope is that Haven will make it possible for every survivor to have a community that they can walk into, that they can have support and heal them and empower them,” kemp-delisser said.
Seniors Dayna Campbell, Rachel Drucker and alumna Madison Paulk ’16 were greatly involved in the 2015 protest and speak-out at the Center for Women’s Studies, and worked with the administration during the following months to address student demands. Almost a year after their collaboration with Colgate Forward, Campbell, Drucker and Paulk appeared before members of the Colgate community to discuss their vision for the new center. The three women stood together at the podium and spoke, one at a time.
Campbell provided context by explaining the issues Colgate Forward, the ACC and members of the Colgate community took with the data collected on sexual assault at Colgate.
“Some of the issues with the HEDS data were, one, the way in which the experiences of students were boiled down to numerical statistics, and two, the desensitized nature of the presentation of that data,” Campbell said. “Additionally, we felt that the rushed nature of the planning of the Sexual Climate Forum did a disservice to all the students whose voices were represented.” Campbell continued by outlining specific motivations that spurred the 2015 protest and speak-out, speaking in personal terms.
“We believed that, by pushing ourselves to speak up for students who were, and are, silenced, we could take a small step forward to create a community we wished to be a part of. It wasn’t about us; it never was,” Campbell said. “It was about accountability and responsibility. We were moved, with other members of this community, to demand that the university take care of us and its other students.”
After Campbell shared her thoughts, Drucker elaborated about her involvement in the protest and speak-out. Drucker then introduced a concept she referred to as the “Colgate autopilot,” which is a certain type of state in which many students function while at Colgate. In this state, students often have competitive debates over who has the most work or who has the most stress. By leading and participating in the 2015 protest and speak-out, Drucker felt that autopilot turn off.
“There was a sense of urgency, and a sense of understanding that maybe autopilot doesn’t have to be the only way, and that being ‘too busy’ isn’t an excuse to ignore the pain of those around us,” Drucker said. Drucker also expressed the dissatisfaction she felt in the months following the protest.
“Of course, the passion built up during protests wasn’t going to last forever, and autopilot quickly resurfaced. I don’t know how to change that. I wish I did,” Drucker said. Ultimately, Drucker hopes that Haven will help interrupt this “Colgate autopilot” and allow students to continue the conversation about sexual assault at Colgate and ways to address the pain that sexual assault has caused on campus. “I have faith in the center, and I have faith in all of you. Try to resist the autopilot. It’s not the only way,” Drucker said. During her remarks, Paulk challenged the Colgate community to continue to think about ways to improve Colgate.
“I have so much hope for this space and what it means for Colgate as a campus and as a community moving forward,” Paulk said. “For me, Haven is a step forward, but it is not a final destination for what this community can look like when we support one another. Haven is what democracy looks like. Haven is what humanity and love and community could look like when, for a moment, we stop doing what we usually do, and we put people first.”
Residential Fellow Natasha Torres ’15 provided closing remarks, pausing intermittently to hold back tears.“Our work is in conversation with those who came before us and those who fought and continue to fight tirelessly to shift this campus culture for those who are here, for those who left, for those who are silenced, for those who will call this place home and for ourselves,” Torres said. “My hope is that Haven becomes an evolving space, rooted in social justice, that meets the needs of anyone who steps through our door.”