Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Amherst College issues sexual assault report

Amherst College issued its report last week on the institution's policies about sexual assault and its practices and procedures for dealing with reported assaults. As you might recall, the college gained national attention last fall when a former student wrote an editorial in the school's paper about the lack of support she received after being assaulted on campus. AC had already begun the process of policy review at that time, which was a good thing given the attention the college received--but handled well.
The school held a meeting (closed to press) last night to discuss the findings and the future. It seems like there is a tactic to use peer pressure: training people who are onlookers to assault and harassment to intervene as well as stopping things before they start (i.e., before the offensive t-shirt designed by the fraternity actually makes its way onto the backs of brothers).  One focus will be on first-year students, according to Margaret Hunt, chairwoman of the committee.
"First year students are the ones that are most at risk for sexual assault. So we're very interested in trying to figure out ways to integrate first year students better, in a more healthy way into the campus community."
This statement is somewhat worrisome. Does she mean at-risk for committing assault and so there needs to be education about the kind of assault-free climate AC wants to create thus discouraging first-year students from committing assault? Or does she mean first-year students are more at risk for being victims of assault? If the latter...well it's problematic. Because what is being implied is that first-year female students put themselves at risk for sexual assault and so they need to be educated about what situations are safe. This kind of tactic puts the onus on the potential victim. Don't drink this, don't be in this space with this person, don't wear this, don't be alone here, or here, or here. That is less about climate change and more about maintaining a system in which some people feel privileged enough to engage in sexual harassment, aggression, or assault, and the rest of us have to figure out how to avoid those people. There is a lot of discussion everywhere--not just at AC--about changing the climate. But if we can't change our way of talking about sexual assault so that the solutions are not about changing the behaviors of potential victims, there will not be climate change.
I have not seen the statistics to which Hunt was referring, so I do not know which interpretation supports those stats. I suspect it is the latter, though I wish it was former.