Brookdale’s Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) club partnered with American Association for Women in Community Colleges (AAWCC) on March 22 to host a campus-wide “A Day of Dialogue” on sexual violence, harassment, consent, stalking and other topics that impact college-age students in America.
The program – which featured a panel of five Brookdale officials alongside WILL co-advisor and event moderator Margaret Natter – brought students, faculty and staff together in an attempt to shine a light on issues that affect a significant percentage of U.S. college students but are often left undiscussed on campuses across the nation.
Recent studies have shown that more than one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college, while the vast majority of such incidents are never reported to police or college officials. These issues, according to Natter, have been thrust into the national spotlight in the wake of the 2015 documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which showcased students who faced retaliation and harassment at their colleges for attempting to report acts of rape.
While Brookdale does not see the same incidents and face the same challenges as a residential university, Brookdale Police Sergeant Risheem Whitten said community college students can encounter sexual violence and harassment at any time. One of the biggest challenges for young people, he said, is the decision to report a crime in the first place.
“You may feel guilty for the perpetrator. People will say, ‘I don’t want to get him in trouble,'” Whitten said. “You don’t need to make excuses for the actions of these individuals. They chose to violate you and the judicial system. And so they need to be held accountable for their actions.”
Fellow panelists Christopher Jeune – Brookdale’s manager of Student Conduct and Compliance – and Brookdale counselor Brian Oland gave an overview of the reporting process for sexual assault and other crimes, explaining that students do not necessarily have to file a formal police report to come forward about an incident. The important thing, they said, is to speak about it with someone.
“We are professional counselors,” Oland said, “and we are here to talk with you and help you through any issue you might be dealing with.”
The panel, which also featured WILL co-advisor Roseanne Alvarez and Sue Levine, victim support program coordinator for 180: Turning Lives Around, also discussed the importance of preventing crimes before they happen. One of the most effective prevention strategies, they said, is to recognize the signs of trauma in your friends, classmates and students.
“A person may be withdrawn, they may have bruises, or they may just not be acting like themselves,” Levine said. “If you notice something isn’t right, it is important to speak up.”
Another important prevention strategy, Natter said, includes understanding the definition of consent in regards to sexual encounters.
“Yes means yes. And that is the only time it means yes,” Natter said. “Consent must be a clear, verbal and sober affirmation to sexual activity. Any other circumstance is subject to legal action.”
The panel then instructed the dozens of students and employees in attendance to work in groups and come up with effective ways to become “active bystanders” on campus and help change the cultural and social attitudes and contribute to sexual violence. Suggestions included taking a more critical approach to mainstream media, which can often glorify criminal behaviors and cast blame on victims, and speaking out when you believe a crime may have taken place.
Other students, like Brookdale special education major Christina Perrino, said forums like the one held on March 22 can also be a powerful force for change on college campuses.
“The truth is that we tend not to consider the people around us as often as we should,” Perrino said. “That’s why it’s so important to have programs like this and to start this conversation. It gives everyone the entitlement to talk about these things and the permission to speak up. Programs like this make it okay to take care of each other. To really be there for each other.”
If you, a fellow student or a Brookdale employee has been the victim of sexual violence, please reach out to the Brookdale Police Department, the office of Student Conduct and Compliance, the Brookdale Counseling department, or a community organization like 180: Turning Lives Around.
Contact numbers, reporting guidelines, statistics and other important information are all available on Brookdale’s new Stay Safe website.
Check out more photos from the Day of Dialogue here.
Article by Mikaela Mazzeo, college relations intern.