University News

Undergrad sexual assault forum draws few attendees

Task Force on Sexual Assault’s public forum explores discourse over sexual violence

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Only seven members of the Brown community attended the Task Force on Sexual Assault’s undergraduate public forum in Salomon 001 Tuesday night, transforming what might have been an informational presentation into an intimate discussion among student leaders, student survivors of sexual assault and staff members.

President Christina Paxson was also in attendance.

The 19-member task force was represented by co-chairs Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, executive vice president for planning and policy, and Michele Cyr, associate dean for academic affairs for biology and medicine, and members James Valles, professor of physics, Sara Matthiesen GS, Katherine Byron ’15, Justice Gaines ’16, Michael Grabo, associate counsel in the Office of the Vice President and General Counsel, and Francie Mantak, director of health promotion.

The campus culture of sexual intimacy and sexual violence, a predominant topic in the discussion, elicited a variety of descriptions and suggestions. In order to understand student sentiment, Carey said the task force has reached out to the public directly, meeting with representatives from the Brown Center for Students of Color, members of the Greek community and members from student groups involved specifically with sexual assault, such as Imagine Rape Zero and the Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse.

Carey added that it is difficult even for alums to get a sense of the contemporary campus culture and turned to the undergraduates in the audience for their thoughts on the topic.

Several participants shared anecdotes of their own experiences with campus culture or with sexual violence.

Radhika Rajan ’15 said spaces where date rape occurs are well known by some students on campus, adding that her friends were told which fraternity houses use date-rape drugs during their first few weeks on campus as first-years. Rajan also said students’ ideas of what constitutes sexual harassment vary and asked how to establish a common definition of harassment.

A staff member, who said her department assisted in creating the online module on health and sexual assault for faculty and staff members, added that though the module has been billed as mandatory for employment, many faculty and staff members have not completed it.

Faculty and staff members need to be held accountable, she said, suggesting, among other ideas, that those who do not complete the necessary modules should not receive a salary raise.

“It takes a whole community to change,” she said, explaining that without engagement on all fronts, the campus cannot improve.

Carey said the appropriate sanctions for those found responsible for sexual violence have also been a frequent topic of discussion at forums and among the task force members.

One student, who described herself as a survivor of an incident of sexual harassment that occurred on campus last semester, said the overlap of public and private space at Brown can complicate sanctions in some cases. At a private institution with an open campus like Brown, the line between what is on and off campus can blur, she said. Though the alleged perpetrator in her case has been suspended, she said she has seen him more than once around campus.

The student also said she felt “doubly victimized” by the disciplinary procedures after she reported the incident. Describing it as a space where “power dynamics played out” along lines of race, gender and disability, she added that she played into the system for her own self-defense by dressing and carrying herself in a certain way throughout the hearing.

She asked the task force whether there can be better training for the hearing adjudicators going forward in order to avoid these circumstances.

Another student said the University needs to bolster training for Meiklejohn peer advisers whose advisees may approach them about experiences with sexual violence. She said she would feel ill-equipped to handle such a situation when it arises.

Maahika Srinivasan ’15, president of the Undergraduate Council of Students, agreed that there is a dearth of resources for Meiklejohns on the issue.

Toward the end of the forum, Leah Kazar ’17 asked Carey about the timeline for the task force’s recommendations, since she said many students are anxious to see changes to Brown’s sexual assault policies and procedures. Carey responded that the task force plans to release a preliminary set of immediate-action recommendations in December.

“We feel that urgency and want to balance it with the care to do this well,” Carey said.

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  1. Imogen Richardson says:

    Chris Paxson, It’s your responsibility, not MJohns’s. You dumb or somem?

    • Imogen Richardson says:

      She should definitely use her magic rape prevention wand.

      Her response isn’t what many hope for. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work ourselves. Your commenting grows tiresome.

      • By all means, work ourselves. As part of that, make Chris Paxson work. So far, all she has done were to appoint committees and to attend meetings in which the rest of the people talk about doing the work. She is coasting. So, why would she need a magic wand when she has wise guys like you to protect her? Your thickness (and hers) are very tiresome.

  2. Why wasn’t Sclove and Kopin in attendance?

  3. You mean the Brown University SJWs got bored of something and moved on? I’m not attempting to downplay the importance of this issue, as it is one of many important issues today, but many on this campus simply rally around a cause and move on when it is no longer in vogue. I kind of miss the days where I had to try to figure out what the new hot button issue was on campus.

    • This was the second of two public forums for undergrads–the first was well-attended.

    • Sjws are not a established group. There are multiple organizations established around multiple issues and that one issue got more attention than others means that many feel for it than others.

  4. i'm a survivor says:

    Um, am I the only person who is not surprised this was not heavily attended by (many) survivors? I would not feel comfortable discussing my own experiences in front of people I do not know, let alone Paxson. I think people trying to report on sexual assault need to understand the closet that rape creates for its victims.

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