In light of new revelations of sexual misconduct in American universities, the new Student Sexual Misconduct Policy on campus aims to promote bystander involvement and self-education on campus.
Last week, the Association of American Universities’ (AAU) Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct found that while almost half of the 150,138 students surveyed witnessed incidents of sexual misconduct, 77 percent did nothing to intervene in those situations.
Although Wellesley College was not among the 27 participating colleges, the administration administered the Campus Climate Survey to analyze sexual misconduct in May and found in preliminary results that Wellesley students believe they are more likely to act as bystanders than those representing the national standard. Although it is unclear how many students participated overall, 8 in 10 of those students assumed that they would “intervene when seeing others at risk of experiencing sexual misconduct.”
Following the survey, the task force to review the student-to-student sexual misconduct policy redrafted the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy to encourage bystander intervention by students.
Under the Community Guidelines Article, students are required “to prevent sexual misconduct as active bystanders when possible.” President of Sexual Health Educators (SHE’s) Alessandra Robinson ’16 said that students will be more likely to help students facing sexual assault as well as the ensuing process when given legal responsibility.
“When students feel empowered to protect each other, that sense of accountability extends to so many different areas. When we are held to these standards of honesty, integrity, and respect, our campus becomes one where students not only feel valued but also safe,” Robinson said.
However, some Wellesley students feel that the Wellesley community is already apt to enact this statute with or without the policy.
“The majority of Wellesley students are very outspoken…As a result, many students are already active bystanders who are supportive peers and try to act appropriately in potentially harmful circumstances,” Tashay Campbell ’18 said.
Supplementing an emphasis on bystander action is the policy’s objective to promote education. Within the Definitions and Prohibited Conduct Articles are definitions of terms relevant to sexual misconduct such as consent, or “affirming, voluntary, knowing and continuous agreement.” The document devotes 19 pages in total to the reporting process and resources available to students.
The previous Student-to-Student Sexual Misconduct Policy, while explicitly defining forms of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, did not define certain terms integral to these definitions. Coercion, for example, was said to involve “situations in which a student is unable to give consent because the student is incapacitated due to the influence of alcohol or drugs, unconscious, or asleep,” without mention of what qualified as consent.
While the new measure provides an extensive basis for student learning and resolves ambiguities of the previous Student-to-Student Sexual Misconduct Policy, some students are concerned that the policy fails to act as an educational tool in itself.
“I doubt that many students will read the entire policy… It might be more practical to host a discussion [detailing] the various elements of the policy as well as provide feedback about how they feel and what they think about it,” Campbell commented.
Reinforcing this assertion are statistics about education released by the AAU; a mere 24 percent of students reported that they were “very or extremely knowledgeable” about their college’s sexual misconduct policy. Anticipating that students might be reticent to study the Sexual Misconduct Policy on their own accord, Assistant Director of Health Education Claudia Trevor-Wright and the SHEs have joined forces to create a bystander awareness program.
“We are trying to create our own ‘SHarmy’ (SHE army) of allies who are just as passionate about health, safety, and wellness as we are…so that members of our community have all the right tools to be an active bystander and an advocate for the safety of their Wellesley siblings,” Robinson explained.
Trevor-Wright further added that the Task Force To Review the Student-to-Student Sexual Misconduct Policy continues to work with student government and organizations to educated students.
“There are, and should be, many opportunities on campus to learn more, including through the student organization SAAFE (Sexual Assault Awareness for Everyone). I would also recommend that students take advantage of the Not Anymore online education program, which anyone with a wellesley.edu email address can access,” Trevor-Wright said.