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Last Tuesday, the PSR Committee on Sexual Assault and Title IX hosted a student forum to discuss CMC’s results from the HEDS Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey taken last spring.

Before Collen Wynn, Director of Institutional Research, gave a brief overview of the survey results, which were released last Thursday, Director of Academic Planning Dianna Graves introduced Rima Shah, the inaugural director of the forthcoming consortium resource opening in January, the EmPOWER Center. The center, a place devoted to helping victims of sexual assault, will host events, provide victims of sexual violence confidential support, help spread awareness, and connect students to additional resources at their disposal.

Title IX Coordinator and Chief Civil Rights Officer Nyree Gray then led a Q&A session. Students had the opportunity to voice their opinion regarding campus climate in regards to sexual assault and suggest possible solutions.

One student asked about the difficulty witnesses in cases of sexual assault experience when they submit a statement on behalf of a victim. This submission can be a challenge because the names of the students providing testimony will be revealed to the respondent. Gray responded that although she understands the desire to keep the statements confidential, the college must make the investigation process fair for all parties involved. As a result, the accused have the right to hear the details of the accusation so that they can disprove it, if inaccurate. Despite the emotional difficulties involved, Gray expressed her hopes that students will report instances of assault and provide information to the Title IX office during investigations to enable the college to respond to more cases when they occur.

One student shared that she had been sexually assaulted in an abusive relationship. The victim never formally reported it because when her friends reported other instances of sexual assault, the perpetrators did not receive a severe punishment. She believed that assailants are not properly punished. Gray insisted that, depending on the findings of the investigation, perpetrators can be severely punished (including suspension and expulsion).

This brought up another issue with reporting sexual assault: many students who experience sexual assault as underclassmen do not report the incident until their junior or senior year. When cases come to light long after the alleged assault occurred, it makes them much more difficult to investigate. Although this problem is not unique to CMC, those at the student forum agreed it is an issue that should be addressed.

The conversation that followed became a discussion about upperclassmen “preying” on first years, particularly since the survey results indicated that 55% of respondents who reported assaults said it occurred in their freshman year. A student asked whether there could be a better screening program for upperclassmen in leadership roles so that these situations are less likely to occur. Residential Assistant Ben Turner ‘16 replied by saying that RAs and First Year Guides receive intensive training that includes Teal Dot and ally training programs, which is an improvement from previous years.

One suggestion that was expressed was for every upperclassman to go through a training program similar to Haven, an online sexual assault awareness course required of freshmen before they arrive at CMC. CMS football team captain Patrick Dixon ‘17 even recommended having Teal Dot training for organizations and teams on campus.

ASCMC Executive Vice President Iris Liu ’16 also proposed that the Title IX Office create a transparent timeline for those who might want to report instances of sexual violence, because many students are not aware of the process. To this statement, Gray responded that they try to conclude cases in 60 days, but that each case’s length fluctuates. Some cases might take longer to investigate while others may not. Either way, the process is extremely thorough because, regardless of the outcome, the investigation will have serious consequences for both parties.

A sentiment stressed by Wynn, Gray, and others at the student forum is that it is apparent that CMC has room to improve in helping survivors of sexual assault and reducing the number of occurrences. As long as there is even one incident of sexual assault, this campus and its students must continue working to prevent it. Having these conversations are a critical step in the direction of change. For those who were not able to attend the forum, Nyree Gray is open and eager to receive feedback and suggestions from students to increase the safety of our campus.