by Sarah Gianni ’18
In an effort to raise continued awareness on the issue, a campus wide forum on sexual assault was held to discuss assault, Title IX, and sexual discrimination. The forum was held on Tuesday, April 4 in the Slavin Center Fishbowl, and led by Assistant Vice President for Student Development and Compliance and Title IX Coordinator Dr. James F. Campbell.
To begin the forum, Vice President of Student Affairs Kristine Goodwin expanded on the work done by Providence College to address the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. “When I arrived in 2012, we began a task force on campus that looked at sexual assault cases occurring nationwide,” said Goodwin. “From there we were able to put together a very good program at PC that has stood the test of time.”
With the help of outside resources, student feedback, and new administration, the way in which PC handles cases of sexual assault continues to develop. “We all have a stake in this important issue, and this forum is a chance to hear about things that are going on, meet the people involved, ask questions, and raise issues,” said Campbell.
During the forum, Campbell identified the different organizations and administrators both on and off of PC’s campus that students can use as resources. Examples of on-campus resources include the Office of Residence Life, the Office of the Dean of Students, the academic dean’s office, Personal Counseling Center, Student Health Center, Office of the Chaplain, Office of Community Standards, and Title IX coordinators.
The Director of Student Health Services emphasized that student health, along with the other on-campus resources “work collaboratively” with one another in order to assist students. Director of Residence Life Jana Valentine echoed these sentiments, and said that their office was committed to student support. “There are a lot of times where incidents happen after hours, and we have a staff member on call 24/7 who is trained to give students information and provide resources.”
A newer resource for students is PC’s partnership with Day One, the sexual assault and trauma center in Rhode Island. Day One provides a 24-hour help line run by volunteer staff that offer in-person and over the phone support.
In addition, law enforcement advocates are now available to students who wish to report any incident of sexual assault or harassment to the police. “These advocates are embedded in the police department, and knows detectives, making this process a lot less daunting,” said Campbell.
Other developments that have occurred within the PC community include revising PC’s Sexual Misconduct/Relationship Violence Policy, enhancing online resources, and adding six new deputy Title IX coordinators to the staff. Additionally, the College has received funding from the Avon Foundation for the third consecutive year to provide sexual assault resources for community members.
PC has also worked with the nonprofit organization Futures Without Violence, to engage in conversations on how to change campus culture and attitudes. With these developments being made however, there is still more work to be done. “So far this year we’ve had 13 Title IX reports with six of those reported as sexual assaults,” said Campbell. “We know these incidents happen, and if people feel more confident about reporting them we could do more to help.” Plans to place graphics on PC shuttles, as well as continue bystander trainings and utilize informational posters, are geared towards continuing to spread awareness of this issue. “We are trying to build on culture that we take care of each other and we’re always the friar family.”
While publicized in a number of campus-wide emails, the forum had very low student attendance. As events like this allow for open discussion and a raising of issues, it becomes less productive when students are not involved in these dialogues.
Additionally, a “Campus Climate” survey was sent out to members of the PC community earlier in the semester to assess individual’s feelings about sexual assault and sexual violence on campus. Overall, there were 817 students who responded to the survey, which falls in line with the usual percentage of participants.
In a follow-up interview with Dr. Campbell, he highlighted the importance of student involvement in this issue. “We need students’ help in order to change culture, as that doesn’t happen from the top down,” he said. “I would like to think there is a degree of trust among students that administration is doing the best job possible, but certainly not all students who are concerned about this issue came to the forum.”
The issue of sexual assault on campus is discussed in a variety of forms throughout the year to students, which could explain the low turnout at the forum. “There is a lot of conversation about this issue, from students coming in individually or in groups to speak with me, or speaking to campus clubs and organizations,” said Campbell.
Katie Comber ’18, president of Students for Social Action, felt that lower attendance for this forum was the result of timing. She would have liked to attend the event but, like many students, had night classes that did not get out until 6:30. She also said she only became aware of the event that morning in the Morning Mail letter and felt many other students might not have been as aware of it too, despite the emails sent out.
One of the main ways that awareness is spread on campus is through the bystander training program that was implemented at PC three years ago. “All freshmen go through this training, both online and in person during orientation,” said Campbell. “We also do extensive training with Residence Assistants so they can keep this rhetoric going with their peers.”
This training, however, is only mandatory for freshman students, as Campbell said it was difficult to get older students to participate. “It becomes a balancing act because these trainings can trigger a lot of resentment for students who have done them before,” said Campbell. “We don’t want to put a negative cast on something we see as upbeat and positive.”
However, administration is always open to student proposals. “If we got a critical mass of students behind wanting to make bystander trainings mandatory for all grades that would help,” said Campbell. “Our goal isn’t to have administration imposing ideas but us working together as a community.”
Despite progress that has been made over the past few years, Campbell recognizes that there is still room for improvement and that students have concerns. Comber felt that resources were still lacking on campus, especially when it came to contact numbers after an assault.
She recognizes that she has never personally gone through the process, but she feels students can be intimated by a list of high administration personnel or mostly male names on the list. Comber also said that because the school does not have rape kits, students must travel to a hospital after any incidents. “[Students] may not be ready to go then after a traumatic event. It is easy for the College not to be cognizant about how traumatic the experience can be and not wanting to talk to many people [right after the incident].”
Going forward, students, staff, and faculty will be in continued discussion on how to properly address issues and get more student opinion on how to effectively address this complicated issue.