A look into Title IX progress

By: Megan Lasher and Christina Dong on November 5, 2014.

After legal mandates for colleges to reinforce tenets of Title IX, Colby has had a multitude of new policies on reporting and preventing sexual misconduct.
Director of the Gender and Sexual Diversity Program Emily Schusterbauer discussed the two most substantial ways in which the College is reforming their policies: mandating peer-led sexual violence bystander intervention training sessions for first-years and sophomores, as well as hiring an outside investigator for victims who request an investigation.
“It’s been a huge undertaking and a huge shift in terms of how we do prevention and awareness,” Schusterbauer said. “For it being the first year, I think it’s been successful.”
The purpose of the peer-led training is for students to learn how to recognize, respond to and prevent sexual violence in the campus community by intervening when they witness a suspicious situation. For first-years, the program also includes a preliminary session to facilitate comprehensive understanding of Colby’s Sexual Violence policies and procedures.
A foundational concept discussed at the beginning of the bystander training was the stereotypes about sexual violence and who is responsible for its prevention, as well as how these stereotypes are counterproductive. For example, one commonly mentioned stereotyped is that women should limit alcohol consumption and dress modestly in order to avoid sexual violence.
The key idea students worked with was how to be an active bystander—how to take action if they see someone at risk for becoming a victim of sexual violence. Student leaders summarized three different methods of intervention in a phrase called “The Three D’s”: Direct, Distract, and Delegate. After learning how each of The Three D’s could be applied in real life, each training class—a group of about 30 students—split into small groups to respond to hypothetical college scenarios using the new strategies.
According to feedback from a survey handed out after the events, the training sessions have been well received by both class years. “I think students appreciate that other students are getting involved,” Schusterbauer said.
Schusterbauer noted the importance of the panels being student-led. “So much of work is about changing the culture around sexual misconduct, and I think it’s important that that comes from within the community. I could stand up and talk about this to students, but it wouldn’t have the same effect,” she said.
At the end of last year, the Gender and Sexual Diversity Program compiled a group of student facilitators who took the initiative to plan and lead all of the trainings with Schusterbauer’s help. “Peer educators really helped me last spring to design this whole program…. I was worried that they’d be burnt out by the Fall, but because they had so much invested in this, they felt a sense of ownership and a real drive going forward,” Schusterbauer said.
Grace DeNoon ‘15, a facilitator and one of the key students in developing the training sessions, said that she felt most of the attendees not only learned critical information in reporting and preventing assault, but were also appreciative of the conversation that sprung from the forums. “I think a lot of students were ready to have that talk, it was a talk that they had been wanting to have, and they had never really had that chance. And to be able to provide that chance was amazing,” DeNoon said. “A sophomore came up to me afterward to thank me for doing the workshops, and said it was something he had been looking for on campus.”
According to peer educator Leah Cole ’17, though some students “begrudgingly [went] to our training sessions,” they ended up finding that what they learned is useful and applicable to multiple situations they witness at parties each weekend.”
“It was helpful to see how to get involved in less direct or confrontational ways,” Ethan Archer ’17 said of the strategies discussed at the training.
Cole added that much of the positive feedback thus far pertained specifically to the student-led nature of the trainings. “I think we’re a little more believable than a faculty member because we’re out there experiencing the exact same culture, social and personal pressures that the people we’re teaching are experiencing,” Cole said.
“They see what we see around campus so they knew how to talk to us effectively,” Archer agreed.
For Alexa Huang ’17, student-organized training was helpful because “this way, we feel more comfortable [talking] about things we would otherwise feel awkward to talk about in front of [faculty], such as identifying misconduct examples around us.”
Though most of the sessions had a positive response, a few students pointed out things they might have changed in the way the trainings were structured. Schusterbauer mentioned that the size of the seminars was a big contention for student complaints. “What’s been interesting to me, having worked at larger schools, is that a cap of 26 students is actually big here. To me that’s small, but that’s one change we really want to see: capping it at 15 students per session.”
Another complaint students discussed was the number of sessions. “Each first-year student completed two different sessions, and they registered for the pair at the same time so they would have the same peer facilitators and the same people. Some students wanted only one session, some students wanted more, so we are trying to find how to respond to those requests,” Schusterbauer said.
Schusterbauer concluded that the biggest problem was that students often thought they didn’t need the training. “A lot of people assume they don’t need this information. We hope that they don’t need this, but we know that statistically speaking, college students do experience sexual violence at a disproportionate rate. We also know that if students have experienced sexual assault, they go to their peers first,” she said.
According to Cole, even students who were dissatisfied with the training ended up demonstrating why it is important. “A freshman boy, who remained unnamed to us, went to our boss to complain about how silly it was to require something like that, and proceeded to accidentally tell her all the ways he’s seen bystander intervention has played out on campus over the course of a weekend,” she said.
DeNoon said that the conversation around reporting and preventing assault often comes down to targeting victims or making it seem like sexual assault victims could have prevented their own assaults. She defined this as the “Risk Reduction Model,” which is “when we identify groups we see as most at risk, and tell them how to stay safe. It’s putting the victim in charge of stopping sexual violence, and it’s victim shaming. At Colby, we are not going to be okay with that anymore. We need to prevent perpetrators from becoming perpetrators by identifying sexual misconduct beyond the myths.”
DeNoon said that redefining sexual misconduct was a large part of the training sessions. “We discussed it as our umbrella term of ‘sexual misconduct’, which really helped students conceptualize it in a different way and made students understand it a lot better. When you define sexual violence as the stereotypical just male-female penetration and stranger rape, it’s too narrow. Defining it beyond that narrow definition makes it a more fruitful discussion and a safer environment for reporting.”
Beyond the trainings, Schusterbauer said that her major focus is working toward making the College a safer place to report sexual misconduct. “ A lot of students were uncertain: if I do make a report, what happens next?…. We are trying to do a better job of making sure that information is out there and available for students. This year and last year, we made student guides and handbooks that were more concrete about what happens after someone reports and how to report. [an accident.]”
Along with that, Schusterbauer added: “We changed our procedure to work with an outside investigator. If someone decides that they [want] there to be a full investigation and a misconduct panel, we will have an external investigator to come in and do that for us.” This investigator will be someone not associated with the College who will come in and look into the reports which request punitive or legal action.
“It’s important to note that not everyone wants a full investigation/panel… but for those who do, the new investigator will hopefully allow students to feel more confident in the process, that that person doesn’t know anybody at Colby, doesn’t have a bias, and they are also not going to be running into these students later on campus in a different capacity,” Schusterbauer added.
Since the start of the training program, Cole herself has seen more bystander intervention on weekends and has even heard about more students ensuring affirmative consent. “While there [are] many factors at play as to why that is, I think and hope that this new Title IX program has made a difference in the awareness of the issue as a community issue, and growing accountability for personal actions,” Cole said.

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