University News

Student activists create anti-sexual assault alternative senior class gift fund

Alternative fund will proceed with administrative support

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, May 22, 2014

Student activist campaign Imagine Rape Zero unveiled last week the Gift for a Sexual Assault-Free Campus in Honor of the Class of 2014, an alternative to the annually awarded senior class gift that aims to fund initiatives to prevent and respond to sexual assaults on Brown’s campus.

The target goal is $37,300, with a funding goal of $28,000 in the area of “prevention” and $9,300 for “counseling and advocacy,” according to the donation website. The gift, set up in conjunction with the University, creates an advisory board of three students and two University health education workers who will allot the money each year to initiatives they believe will best combat rape on campus, said Katherine Long ’14.5, a member of Imagine Rape Zero and one of the founders of the alternative class gift.

The selection of the advisory board is still under discussion with the University, but Justice Gaines ’16, an Imagine Rape Zero member, said it is likely that leaders of existing sexual assault prevention groups on campus will choose the three members, with the stipulation that none of these leaders can be chosen.

The alternative gift project was set in motion around a month ago, after Long brought the idea to members of Imagine Rape Zero who had already been considering such a course of action, she said.

“I know as a senior I really want to give back to Brown, but I’m really reluctant to do it because of how the University has handled sexual assault,” said Long, a former Herald senior staff writer, explaining her decision to abandon the century-old tradition of a senior class gift to the Brown Annual Fund in favor of creating a new option for students.

A central goal of Imagine Rape Zero is to get the University to provide additional resources for sexual assault, Gaines said, and the alternative gift is intended as a route to access those resources. Students are able to hold the University more responsible on the issue of sexual assault because lack of funding is no longer an excuse to ignore student demands, he said.

Though the administration was not initially connected to the project, President Christina Paxson reached out to Imagine Rape Zero with a pledge of $2,500, and administrators from the Advancement Office negotiated with students to draft a gift agreement that would create the account and allow it to be controlled in part by students, Long said.

“This campaign provides an opportunity for members of the community to contribute in a meaningful way to achieve our shared goal of preventing and responding to sexual assault on campus,” Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, wrote in an email to The Herald explaining the University’s decision to back the project.

For those donating to the senior gift itself, the University will double donations made in honor of “A Sexual Assault-Free Campus” up to a total of $5,000 for a maximum matching gift of $10,000 to the Gift for a Sexual Assault-Free Campus.

Of the $37,300 total goal, $20,000 is set as a funding goal for sexual assault peer education groups on campus, with an $8,000 goal for additional resources for Residential Peer Leaders, such as prevention training sessions with residents, according to the group’s website. Another $8,000 would be tentatively set aside for trauma sensitivity training for staff, including Department of Public Safety officers, deans and Health Services staffers, Long said.

But the final disbursement of resources will lie in the hands of the students on the advisory board, a “revolutionary” action in the University’s history of dealing with sexual assault, Long said.

The alternative class gift comes after a period of widespread activism from some students directed toward the University’s policies on sexual assault.

Following an April 22 press conference held by Lena Sclove ’15.5, in which she announced that the University would be allowing her alleged rapist to return to Brown in the fall following a one-year suspension, Imagine Rape Zero formed and joined other students in speaking out against the University’s Code of Student Conduct, which is under review this summer and next year.

“Changes to reporting and the adjudication process for students who have been charged with sexual assault … is necessary, and Lena Sclove’s story demonstrated that beyond a shadow of a doubt,” Long said.

The alternative class gift aims to respond to this by confronting financial inadequacies within the existing bureaucratic system, Long said, adding that sexual assault educators are currently able to hold only one training session per year and that survivors may have to wait up to two weeks for a Counseling and Psychological Services appointment because of the existing workload.

“In terms of how much money the University raises on a whole every year — the goal for this year’s annual fund is $37 million — this is really a drop in the bucket,” she said. “This is something the University should have been doing already.”

Bureaucratic reform, including changes to the code of conduct, is only one path Imagine Rape Zero is pursuing. By promoting student advocacy groups, the fund also seeks to address the “root of the problem, which is that we live in a culture where rape can be implicitly condoned, where survivors are often blamed for the fact that sexual assault was perpetrated against them,” Long said.

Changes to the code of conduct will likely address the procedure when a sexual assault has occurred, while the initiatives funded by the alternative class gift target education on sexual assault prevention, Gaines said. While both implementations are necessary, he said, “it is upsetting to me that things such as (the fund) and the code of conduct changes have had to be pushed by students.” Worries about oversight of the fund persist, specifically in relation to the creation of conclusive policies aimed at supporting currently underrepresented groups such as students of color and queer students, Gaines said.

In interviews, several seniors expressed support for the alternative gift fund.

“I would support that,” said Max Gaspin ’14. “I think it’s obviously something that deserves more attention on campus. This semester at least, we’ve seen publicly the results of Brown’s current sexual assault policy playing out.”

Gavyn Ooi ’14 said he would favor the effort as long as the fund were not just symbolic. “Insofar as putting money behind that if it’s needed, I’m okay with it.”

“It’s pretty important symbolically, too,” added Conan Huang ’14.

The gift account will become permanent when the agreement is signed later this week, though it is already accepting donations from Brown seniors and others, Long said. The advisory board, which is scheduled to meet at least once a semester and will convene before the end of September, will oversee the allotment of its resources.

-With additional reporting by Maxine Joselow

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