Sexual assault and relationship violence prevention roundtables

The year of 2014 has seen the issue of sexual assault driven to the forefront of national debate through college student-driven initiatives and an increasingly public dialogue concerning the sexual lives of students.

In September, Carnegie Mellon University was one of over 60 colleges investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a Title IX Complaint against the administration, citing the school had allegedly failed to protect a first-year student from her verbally and sexually abusive ex-girlfriend.

In late October, Carnegie Mellon students carried mattresses on campus for “Carry That Weight Day,” a national movement aiming to create awareness of sexual assault and solidarity with sexual assault survivors.

Yet real change, both culturally and physically, has only just begun. Carnegie Mellon students finished this fall semester by encouraging and extending campus dialogue on sexual assault.

Sexual assault and relationship violence prevention roundtables were hosted on campus this past week by student group Got Consent?, Student Senate’s Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention (SARVP) committee, and various members of Carnegie Mellon’s administration. The program, which began Nov. 18, includes seven separate roundtables, the last of which occurs on Nov. 25, to cover diverse Carnegie Mellon communities and issues related to sexual violence.

Beginning with the theme of “Greek Life, Athletics, and Sexual Violence Prevention” on Tuesday, the roundtables continued with the following issues: “Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence at CMU,” “Sexual and Relationship Violence in the LGBTQA Community,” “Prevention and CMU Graduate Students,” “Violence Prevention and the Law,” “Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention: Orientation and the First-Year Community,” and “International and Underrepresented Student Voices.”

The organization of the roundtables came as a response to the OCR roundtables earlier this fall. President of Got Consent? and senior vocal performance major Taylor Rawley, and sophomore statistics major Vaasavi Unnava and junior decision science major Julia Eddy of Student Senate’s SARVP Committee, as well as Carnegie Mellon’s Coordinator of Gender Programs & Sexual Violence Prevention Jess Klein united to create a similar, yet more student-oriented conversation.

Unnava and Eddy explained that they had been wanting to host an event like the roundtables for a while. Klein expressed that she wanted “to piggyback off of what wasn’t said during what we thought were going to be roundtables.... This is the response to that, so that people can say what they want to say.”

“After the OCR sessions, where the Office for Civil Rights came in, I think a lot of students, myself included, thought that was going to be more of a discussion and was going to actually get things done,” Rawley said. “And really what it was — and I completely understand why it was like this — it was more of an interrogation, really. Because they’re doing an investigation.... And so I think a lot of students left; [they felt] like they weren’t able to get their questions answered, they weren’t able to get their voices heard, to make any positive change.”

Rawley revived Got Consent? two years ago after he completed Sexual Assault Awareness training and was encouraged by Jess Klein to reboot the organization. After hosting a sexual assault awareness-themed water pong tournament last April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Got Consent? plans on inviting various speakers and comedians for a Sexual Assault Awareness event this coming spring.

At Tuesday’s “Greek Life, Athletics, and Sexual Violence Prevention” session, notecards were passed around to the crowd, which consisted mostly of fraternity brothers and male athletes. The students were asked to suggest questions and comments for the room to discuss. Some issues put forward included healthy, non-violent masculinity, the responsibility of universities to respond to sexual assault allegations, making the conversation on sexual assault a preventative instead of reactionary one, opening the debate to those who are not as aware of the issue, and creating a healthier dialogue on sex for athletic teams.

“We’re really trying to highlight these sort of falling-through-the-crack areas that need to be addressed, but are sometimes hard to pinpoint when you are in a type of OCR setting,” Rawley explained.

The roundtables aimed to include, but not highlight, administrative voices. Instead, the roundtables created a space for students to communicate with the administration and their fellow students. “We all made it very clear that this was student-driven,” Rawley said. “And I think that from the turnout that we saw that’s very, very clear that students are wanting to participate in this. Students are wanting to be heard.”

Jess Klein detailed in an email to The Tartan three things she feels would benefit from further attention: “1. Education and engagement for graduate students. 2. Making policy and reporting procedures more transparent to the student body. While these things are NO secret, they aren’t necessarily put out there publicly for people to find. 3. Keeping the campus community engaged and interested in this topic, even if they feel like it has ‘nothing to do with them.’ ”

Rawley commended the administrative members in the audience. “They also see that there is a big problem with the way students view the administration — how we are required to deal with sexual assault and relationship violence reports. They’re very eager to hear what we have to say,” Rawley said. “I think [the administration’s] main goal too was to avoid giving a presentation. And I know that sometimes it can get that way a little bit, because they do have knowledge about things that we just don’t have. For example, when Gina stood up and talked about the reporting process, that is an appropriate time I think for her to take the floor. And we’re going to have another session about reporting and legal aspects, later, with the Chief of [University] Police Tom Ogden. That’s just something we don’t know about as students, and I feel like that’s something we need to be educated about.”