Faculty-led Open Forum Prompts Discussion on Sexual Violence

Photo by Nicole Williams

An open forum to discuss how college campuses deal with sexual assault and relationship violence was presented by faculty from Women and Gender Studies was held Tuesday in the Alumni Lounges.

According to Kristin Kenneavy, assistant professor of sociology, the Cleary Report, which requires colleges to divulge the number of crime incidents that occurred on campus each year, noted a total of six incidents of forcible sexual assault on Ramapo's campus in 2008. However, she also added that the number is not necessarily stable; in 2009 there were three reported incidents while in 2010 there were 11 reported incidents.

“It’s difficult to get your head around what these numbers are supposed to indicate. Does it mean that because we went from three to 11 that there was a real uptick in the existence of this sort of behavior on campus? Perhaps not,” Kenneavy said, explaining the data. “When you see the start of programs that encourage people to take ownership of these issues — culturally speaking — then what you might find is an uptick in reported incidents because many, many men and women never come forward to report the things that happened to them.”

Kenneavy provided background for the discussion, particularly noting that the majority of students on campus, nearly 60 percent, knew someone who had been affected by sexual violence.

“That’s one of the reasons why when we take a bystander intervention approach, or an engaging men as allies type of approach, those ways of preventing violence are so effective — because many people, if they haven’t experienced it themselves, they have someone in their life who has,” Kenneavy said.

Expanding on the different approaches, Leah Warner, assistant professor of psychology, provided a framework for the discussion by breaking down the different types of prevention programs often utilized. According to Warner, one of the prevention programs, self-protection, focuses on changing the behavior of the victim and engaging in self-defense.

“It’s aimed at changing individuals’ behaviors who might be in a potential victim situation, such as engaging in self-defense classes, engaging in resistance classes — anything that involves changing the behavior of that potential victim. Oftentimes that potential victim is framed as a woman,” Warner said.

The second type of prevention program, Warner explained, was aimed at potential perpetrators — trying to change the attitudes of those who would commit a sexual assault.

“These programs surround teaching empathy, teaching what consent means, teaching perceptions of gender roles and how strict gender roles might create a tendency towards certain behaviors. Oftentimes, these programs are conceptualized for men,” Warner said.

The third type of program, a community-based collective action type of program, focuses on changing the culture of a community and instilling a sense of collective responsibility. The Women’s Center’s Green Dot Program is an example of this type of program.

Opening up the discussion, Warner posed a simple question: what happens when a college or any other institution uses only one of these programs — or for example, only uses self-protective programs? Students were quick to dispel that ideology:

“I really feel like if you’re just focusing on the victim, that’s like treating the symptom rather than the cause,” Renz Valencia, a sophomore, said.

When asked about what could be done to create a safer environment, students seemed to be looking at the bigger picture.

“The most difficult, but the most important thing to do is to change the culture, and the first place that starts is with the different terms we use and things we say,” senior Jordan Moses said.   

Time was also allotted during the discussion to talk about the school’s involvement with preventing sexual assaults; this includes informative sessions for first year students on the Green Dot Program, a focus on first year students’ involvement with the Haven and Alcohol EDU programs, and the campus’s assault contact team available to all students, especially victims of sexual assault, at any time. 

“We provide them with the resources – sometimes they don’t want to go through Public Safety, sometimes they want to go immediately to the hospital,” Venus Hewing, psychological counselor and member of the campus’s assault contact team, said. “Whatever they want to do — we’re there for them.”