Sexual Health and Positive Sexuality a Priority for Students and Administration

Sarah Chandler

New programs, as well as the efforts of students and administrators, have helped bring the issue of sexual health and positive sexuality to the attention of the Colgate community this year. Yet the campus community was again reminded of the reality and presence of sexual assault at Colgate last Friday, February 28, when a Campus Alert was sent out by Campus Safety indicating that a report had been received of a forcible sexual offense against a female Colgate student. The offense allegedly occurred during a social event in an unknown Colgate-owned residence facility.

According to Associate Provost for Equity and Diversity and Title IX Coordinator Marilyn Rugg, in the situation of Friday’s Campus Alert, Campus Safety and the Dean of the College made the determination of timely notice, which is why the email was sent out.

“In general, if we believe there is a credible threat out there for the campus community, we need to alert people of the danger. For the most recent case, we were on notice that something had happened. We didn’t know who the victim was or who the respondent was but we had very credible information that a rape had occurred on campus and we felt that because that was true, we needed to get the word out so people would be more aware,” Rugg said.

Sexual assault and rape are serious issues that affect all colleges and universities. The 2000 National Institute of Justice report states that over the course of their college career, about one in every four women are the victims of attempted or completed rape victimization. More startling is the fact that the Justice Department estimates that only five percent of attempted and completed rapes of college women are reported.

In 2012, according to the 2013 Colgate Crime Statistics Report released by Campus Safety, three forcible sex offenses were reported, all of which occurred in Colgate residential facilities. However, these numbers do not seem to be entirely indicative of the number of incidences actually occurring on campus.

“Going off national statistics about the number of women who are raped during their college career, about 300 people at Colgate have experienced sexual assault or rape and we only have one or two reported each year. Clearly, the numbers are not representative of what’s happening,” leader of the Yes Means Yes seminar senior Evan Chartier said.

According to Colgate policy, sexual assault victims are encouraged to immediately report all sexual assaults to the Campus Safety Department and the local police. At the behest of the victim, on-campus disciplinary action may be initiated. Colgate’s Equity Grievance Panel handles the resolution of sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints on campus. According to Rugg, the policy and procedure of the Council is to stop the offending behavior, prevent its reoccurrence and remediate its effects as far as possible. Sanctions from this panel include suspension or expulsion from the University.

For those who identify as victims or survivors of sexual assault or rape, Colgate provides several on-campus resources where information and support may be obtained. The Student Health Center, the Counseling Center, Dean of the College Office, the Office of Residential Life and COVE groups such as The Network are all places for victims to find support and more information.

However, despite the many available resources, Colgate and the town of Hamilton still lack local access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) in town. Although rape kits are available for students and can be performed at the Health Center and at Hamilton Community Hospital, SANEs are not immediately available.

SANEs are specifically trained to examine patients after a sexual assault. In order to remain certified, SANEs must perform a certain number of rape kit exams each year. SANEs also require access to immediate emergency care and surgical facilities and must see patients within 60 minutes of arrival. SANEs must be available 24 hours a day and are trained in legal procedures and in how to collect evidence that can be submitted to a court of law. Trained to be advocates for victims, SANEs will often come to court to support those who they have examined.

Oneida, which is about a 25 minute drive from Colgate, is the closest town which has SANEs available. For years, Colgate administrators and staff members have discussed trying to bring SANEs to campus but, currently, the plan is not feasible. One of the biggest concerns is a lack of reports of sexual assault. SANE nurses must see a certain number of cases each year to maintain their certification and, with only 1 to 3 cases being reported each year, this would not be enough to maintain certification.

“I can understand the desire to have something on campus but just understanding the legal requirements, I just don’t know if it will happen. It’s not a question of money, but a question of staffing. How many people would you have to have staffing it 24 hours a day? How would you keep them trained? It’s really complicated. To be able to go to Oneida and know that Campus Safety is available to go with you to transport, that you can bring a friend … we’re doing everything we can within the constraints of the legal and medical system to make SANE nurses and SANE facilities easily accessible to students,” Rugg said.

Recognizing all the issues and concerns attached to getting and providing for SANE nurses, junior Seth Martin says that Colgate is still not doing enough.

“We need SANE services. It’s really a joke that somebody [who has been sexually assaulted] has to be told by our university to drive over 20 minutes away. Naomi Wolf came here last semester and really blasted Colgate for not having access to SANEs. It’s not a straightforward thing or an easy thing to [bring SANEs to campus] and it costs money but it’s something we need to be providing students. It’s clearly an issue on campus and I think this is something we can figure out. For the community to say that we don’t have the resources to help students is not right,” Martin said.

In the absence of SANE nurses, the Colgate Sexual Climate Advisory Committee is currently working towards helping to bring some elements and services provided by SANE nurses, such as advocacy for victims and help in navigating the legal process, to campus. According to Dean of Students Scott Brown who chairs the committee, there are plans to train Deans-on-Call to interface with all stakeholders on a  victim’s behalf.

The Sexual Assault Advisory Committee (SAAC) was started last year in order to help develop, coordinate and evaluate initiatives that would improve the sexual climate at Colgate. Made up of faculty, staff and students, the SAAC meets monthly to discuss issues on the individual, environment and system levels which affect sexual health. So far, it has helped support and grow the Yes Means Yes Seminar and has also conducted an extensive “consent” marketing campaign designed to make students aware of Colgate’s policy of sexual consent. Led by Chartier, the campaign helped increase student knowledge of the definition of consent; before the campaign, only 65 percent of students could correctly identify the definition. This percentage increased to 85 percent by the end of the campaign.

The SAAC has also hosted several lectures including ones given by Laci Green and Naomi Wolf, supported performances of plays such as the Vagina Monologues, This Is Not a Play About Sex, and Wires, as well as hosted Brown Bags and positive sexuality training. There are also plans to launch a positive sexuality website and marketing campaigns based around educating the campus community.

“I am very aware of what’s going on at other campuses and I feel really good about where this institution is … We have the policy, we have the procedures, we have the personnel trained to respond, we’re getting the word out to the student body and we’re beginning to address the overall climate. We’re not taking it one sexual assault at a time; we’re starting to look at the bigger picture,” Rugg said.

However, Rugg recognizes that there is still more to be done, especially with regards to the treatment of people who report sexual assault.

“I know what I’d like to see. I’d like to see more concern about how you support a victim when a victim does come forward. Individuals who experience assault need to feel like they will be supported within the community, that there’s not going to be victim blaming. I can get on my soapbox all I want, but until students don’t feel as if they would be ostracized for coming forward, I’m not going to get anywhere. And that’s where students can help students. To me that’s the critical thing,” Rugg said.

Students at Colgate seem to be recognizing this as well. This year, a group of students began the PACT Bystander Intervention Program, a two-hour program modeled after the Duke PACT program. It is led by students to educate others about sexual assault, interpersonal violence, consent policies at Colgate and safe intervention methods students can implement where they see unsafe situations that could lead to sexual assault.

“I wanted to help start this program because Colgate has a problem with sexual assault. We don’t often see it because students don’t necessarily understand the definition of consent or assault. Colgate’s statistics of sexual assault are [troubling]. We live on a dangerous campus. I want this to change. I want people across the larger Colgate community to feel responsible for each other and to lower the statistics of sexual assault,” sophomore Jessie Sullivan said.

Martin, too, feels as if there is more to be done and that things still need to change.

“I have eyes and it’s pretty obvious to me that we have a problem here. I have these conversations with a lot of different people and behind closed doors, and people are willing to say ‘I have a friend who experienced this’ and ‘that happened to me’ and I’ve heard too many of those stories. I see potential for change here and I see a lot of students who want that to happen. I think I’m just saying what’s on everybody’s mind. We need to get more students talking about this. I think the faculty, staff and administration will support us but we need to show how badly we need it and how widely desired change is on campus,” Martin said.

Contact Sarah Chandler at [email protected]