Colgate Faces Sexual Assault

“We are so breaking fire codes.”

With that opening salvo, Women’s Studies Program Assistant Heather Dockstader jump-started a 90-minute long Brown Bag lunch on Tuesday, November 10. Interestingly enough, that may have been an understatement, for the maximum occupancy of 17 in the Women’s Studies Center more than quintupled during the brief lunchtime session. The Brown Bag, titled “Sexual Misconduct at Colgate: From Perception to Education,” acted largely as an informal discussion about sexual misconduct at Colgate, and offered some positive solutions as to what the Colgate community can do to alleviate that problem.

Visiting Professor in Educational Studies Nisha Thapliyal facilitated a 10-person panel that included both students and staff, each offering different topics of discussion.

The main focus of the day was on three of those 10 people: seniors Claire Watts, Miriam Aziz and Suze Fortkiewicz.  Watts and Aziz began the Brown Bag with a presentation that they had done for Thapliyal’s Education for Peace and Non-Violence class last year that served to act as an informal survey about Colgate students’ attitudes regarding sexuality.

In essence, the presentation was, as the last slide revealed, a “Step 1 in the process of the revival of positive sexuality on campus.” Watts and Aziz surveyed 115 students, 71 female and 44 male, and received some interesting results. More than 50 percent of women surveyed felt pressured to “hook up” even though they did not want to. 48 percent of men and 44 percent of women did not know what constituted sexual assault, 36 percent of males admitted to being in an ambiguous situation where they did not know whether a woman was too drunk to hook up and 68 percent of women said that they had been called a derogatory name by a male. Furthermore, Watts and Aziz revealed some comments they received for the free-response question that they had included in the survey. Perhaps the most startling and all-encompassing comment may have come from a woman who answered a question regarding whether there is enough emphasis on sexual assault at Colgate.

If Watts and Aziz’s presentation was a “Step 1” of sorts, Fortkiewicz’s presentation, called “Preventive Education: Making Change on the College Campus” was step two in helping to prevent sexual crimes at Colgate. Fortkiewicz revealed her research about other colleges in the Northeast and what they have done to combat the problem of sexual assault on campus. She mentioned the “Mentors in Violence Preparation” (MVP) program, which started at Northeastern University in 1993.

“Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) is a leadership training program that motivates student-athletes and student leaders to play a central role in solving problems that historically have been considered ‘women’s issues:’ rape, battering and sexual harassment,” the Northeastern website said.

The main premise of the program was that if people with high social capital, like the starting quarterback of a football team, for example, promote discussion regarding the abuse of women on campus, then discussion will become more widespread.

Fortkiewicz further elucidated the MVP Program after the Brown Bag.

“Male or female students would have the ‘MVP Playbook’ that has different scenarios that you might find yourself in that generate conversation around topics. [One might say] ‘Alright, what would you do at this point?’ A lot of people don’t think about what they would do if you see them in a certain scenario, [so people can hypothetically say] I can go to my MVP playbook and I saw this, so here’s what I’m going to do,” Fortkiewicz said.

Fortkiewicz also mentioned the possibility of Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Mark Thompson and Director of Alumni Affairs Tim Mansfield, who are trained in the MVP program, providing MVP training for people at Colgate.

Furthermore, Fortkiewicz spoke of Syracuse’s 24/7 R.A.P.E. Center, which is a support center for students who have experienced sexual violence. Syracuse also promotes a version of the MVP program, as well as other programs, that serves to reach out to as many people as possible. In conclusion, Fortkiewicz proposed a Colgate MVP model,which in turn would boost attendance at events on campus such as “Step Up and Speak Out” and “Yes Means Yes” and further discussion about healthy change.

In essence though, Fortkiewicz believes that healthy discussion is needed to bring about positive change on the Colgate campus.

“I think we need to talk about it and say, ‘This is what I like and this is what I don’t like.’ I think conversation is the first step to really making change and not being afraid to say what you think,” Fortkiewicz said.

After the panel finished speaking, discussion quickly turned away from the topics discussed and quickly switched to other matters, such as the new sexual misconduct policy, the possibility of minimum sanctions for students who commit sexual crimes and repercussions for students who commit sexual crimes. A Brown Bag discussing these issues is set to take place next week.

Moreover, the conversation continued the following day. On Wednesday morning, senior Angelica Chapman led a group of fellow students, faculty and staff in holding a speak-out against sexual assault at Colgate, calling for drastic change on campus. A large crowd attended the speak-out between 11 a.m. and 1:05 p.m. The speak-out served as both a stepping-stone for further change at Colgate, as well as a forum for survivors of sexual assault to be heard, allowing the community to come together to fight these problems together.

Chapman spoke with the Maroon-News about the impetus for the speak-out.

“I’ve been doing research on the history of sexual abuse at Colgate, and it’s been a pervasive problem since the beginning,” Chapman said. “I’m sick and tired of having these conversations with women about what we can all do to be safer. In my own experiences with sexual abuse, it’s so clear that people don’t understand what’s going on. People close their eyes and shut their ears to it… So many people need to be educated.”

Chapman opened the speak-out with a speech that cited several critical moments of Colgate’s sexual assault history, highlighted the problems being dealt with today and mentioned the need to heal and come together as a unified community in order to take further steps to creating change at Colgate.

“When Angie [Chapman] got up and set the tone, she made it very clear that this wasn’t a joke. With the way she presented herself, she made it a safe space,” senior Javier Diaz said. “She helped lower everyone’s defenses and welcomed everyone there, and that was amazing.”

Several women and men then read stories of sexual assault that have occurred on campus. These stories were first submitted to Chapman and appeared on her webzine, Intuit, in a segment called the Sexual Assault Exposé.

“I’ve gathered stories of women who survived abuse, and these are the people who are going to show us reality, not the CCLS stats,” Chapman said. “[The CCLS] can give us a little bit of reality, but there is more legitimacy in stories. I wanted to make that public and provide a safe forum for people that are coming out. The only forums that have existed were [for] women who were survivors sharing stories at Take Back the Night, and even though people are welcome to come, it’s a private event and it isn’t very publicized because it is supposed to be a private and safe space, but that should not be hidden any longer, and that was what fueled the speak out today.”

After the stories, sophomore Yasmin Mannan read a poem dedicated to Chapman, and students, faculty and staff followed her with comments of their own. Perhaps the most poignant of these moments occurred when women shared their personal experiences of sexual abuse.

“The most powerful moments were when survivors came up and shared their stories,” senior Dan Muniz said. “Some people were in tears, I was in tears; that was when we all felt each other’s pain, and through sharing our suffering, we had shared a transcendence. I was also deeply moved when some professors came up and spoke. You really don’t see that side of professors very often, but these few professors that came up and spoke, it showed us that they really cared about community and that they are part of the community.”

For Diaz, the most powerful moment occurred after the speak-out finished.

“After every story was shared, we all came together afterwards and clapped and hugged each other [and offered] physical and emotional signs of support… [the speak-out] was one of the greatest experiences Colgate has ever had, if not the best,” Diaz said.

Chapman and the rest of the grassroots effort are looking to build on the wave of momentum from the speak-out in order to make positive change at Colgate.

“My main thing is drafting this proposal of changes,” Chapman said. “I have the list of emails [gathered at the speak-out] and we are going to draft a proposal and we’re going to meet with the administration. We need to make instant changes as a community. And this is where we need to go; we have the grassroots base and it’s strong enough now. We need an official document and product of the things that need to be changed, and we need to work with the administration.”

“We can’t lose the momentum we have now,” Diaz added.

Further coverage of the speak-out, including video segments and a link to Angelica’s opening speech can be found on later this week.

Contact Paul Kasabian at [email protected].