By Tzipora Lederman
At noon on Friday, March 1, approximately 70 community members gathered in West Lecture Hall to attend the second Sexual Offense Policy Task Force Forum, and to enjoy free pizza. This was an open forum, where individuals shared their personal opinions, critiques and suggestions in discussion moderated by the Oberlin College Dialogue Center (OCDC.) The forum was a safe space; all comments will remain anonymous.
The forum was divided into two parts: concerns and suggestions. Throughout both sections the need for more information was apparent. Not only is there a lack of information about the policy and resources available to students, there is a considerable amount of misinformation circulating. One of the most tangible benefits of this forum was the myth busting. For example, the Counseling Center does not actually have a maximum amount of appointments per student. That is a myth, and only 15% of counseling center patients are referred to outside help. Additionally, despite the information given to a student, one complaint is enough to investigate a faculty member for a sexual offense. It is also important to keep in mind that the Counseling Center only has duty to report in the case of child abuse and the threat of killing oneself or another person. Overestimating the scope of duty to report can bar students from seeking the mental help they need in a case of sexual offense.
The forum also made it clear that we need to reexamine the way we circulate information on campus. The few events during first-year orientation are not enough of a sexual offense education for students. The forum also took note that the Sexual Offense Policy Information Guide is difficult to read and often ignored by students. In order to combat this, there were several suggestions made. The implementation of a center for sexualized violence was cited as an effective way to improve visibility, accessibility and consolidate resources for survivors. This is something that is common on other college campuses.
This idea for the center brought up other concerns about resource allocations at Oberlin. One forum member said “there seems to be a lot taken for granted in the way the school appropriates resources.” This was a response to the fact that Student Health and the Counseling Center have few weekend hours. Unreliable hours and resources make it difficult for students to know where to turn. Additionally, students expressed a need for a more reliable student transport system.
It was apparent that students need more emotional support. There needs to be an avenue for students to go down that is not purely judicial. The forum substituted the word “legal” for “judicial” because the judicial process is not part of the legal system. As one forum member pointed out “this gives the policy a chance to be better and more radical than the current legal system”. But what would this look like?
There were two schools of thought regarding ways the policy should be revised. On the one hand, students felt it was unfair and unsafe for survivors to be on campus with their attackers. In that way, students are advocating for a policy that is harsher on the perpetrators. On the other hand, rape culture is much bigger than one perpetrator. Maybe rape culture will be discouraged though harsher policies, but some students suggested a more radical approach. If the perpetrators remain at Oberlin they should have support and counseling, similar to that given to the victim. This could be a new model that would change the current Sexual Offense Policy. While the forum was in agreement that the policy needs to change, there may be some dissention down the line on what the new and improved policy should look like.
There were other suggestions that did not deal specifically with the fate of the perpetrator. The idea of adding social behavior to the honor code seemed to gain traction during the discussion. Students also felt that Resident Assistants should undergo more training in the area of sexual offense and become more of a resource for their residents.
In many ways this discussion is being replicated at different college campuses around the country. But what makes it Oberlin specific? One student mentioned our sex positivity and how it can mask the reality of sexual assault here. Rape culture is pervasive everywhere, but it changes based on its environment. Is the fact that we have a high rate of reported sexual violence due to higher reporting rates or higher rates of violence? Oberlin sexual culture may not be as unique as some like to think. The ‘Sco was given as an example of an environment in which consent is often not asked for or given for acts of touching and dancing.
The good news is that during this process many existing resources have come to light. For example, the SIC (Sexual Information Center) is open on the weekends, even if Student Health and the Counseling Center are not. Safety and Security is a resource for students who need safe rides to the Rape Crisis Center. The MRC (Multicultural Resource Center) is currently undergoing training on how to better support students surviving sexual offense. OSCA sexual offence advocates make up a support network available to students. In fact they are having a workshop on Consent this Thursday, March 7 at 4:30 in King 106.
During this interim, community members should feel welcome to contact the Sexual Offense Policy Task Force for support, information or resources.