Professors Adam Howard and Lisa Arellano moderate the November 15 community conversation about sexual conduct.
Professors Adam Howard and Lisa Arellano moderate the November 15 community conversation about sexual conduct.

Allegations of sexual misconduct  this fall prompted the first of a series of community conversations about sexual conduct and sexual assault on campus. On Nov. 15 more than 500 students, faculty, and staff convened in Page Commons for a two-hour discussion moderated by professors Adam Howard (education) and Lisa Arellano (American studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies).

The volume of questions made it clear that this discussion would only begin to address the community’s concerns about sexual assault at Colby and the larger cultural issues that feed behaviors. Questions ranged from the specific (What is Colby’s procedure when an assault is reported? What resources exist for students?) to the more broad (What can we do to make people feel safer on campus? How does silence contribute to the problem?).

In response to calls for more education about Colby’s policies and the procedures around reporting sexual assault, Director of Counseling Services Patti Newmen discussed the process from the counseling perspective. “Whether it happens with a student coming in weeks, months, even years after the event, or within minutes of the event, we’re available to help them through the steps,” she said.

Senior Associate Dean of Students Paul Johnston shared the procedure for filing a complaint—from working with the Colby administration to filing criminal charges, if a victim so chooses. Knowing how difficult these conversations can be, Johnston said, “Don’t feel like you have to come alone, and don’t feel like you have to bear that by yourself.” The Dean of Students Office, he said, supports victims in whatever course of action they choose to take.

Students criticized the use of a student handbook to disseminate procedural information and discussed how to better reach students. Associate Dean of Students and Director of Campus Life Jed Wartman encouraged students to share ideas on how to “get more creative” about sharing Colby’s policies.

One reply—“A great way to disseminate this information would be a gender resource center”—was followed by thunderous applause. Professor of Education Lyn Mikel Brown and Berol Dewdney ’12 proposed a gender and sexuality diversity resource center last year, and discussions are ongoing. A proposal for a full-time position will go to the Board of Trustees in February, according to Brown. A resource center, advocates say, would create a place for ongoing discussion of this and other related issues.

Issues of consent came up repeatedly—from what qualifies as consent to creating a culture in which “enthusiastic consent” is the only acceptable form. Students in the group Male Athletes Against Violence talked about how men can contribute to change. And students began to discuss action steps—not what the College could do, but what they could do. “If you don’t know some of the ways in which communities have taken care of themselves and each other, you owe it to yourselves to learn those things,” said moderator Arellano. “I am just suggesting that you don’t want to entirely concede your power to take care of yourself to somebody else.”

Students’ ideas flowed. Think about the language you use and how it may disrespect others. Pass community standards to freshmen. Know what consent is. Don’t use alcohol as an excuse. Hold everyone to a high standard. Model respect. Said one student, “We’re here because we’ve been used to meeting high expectations in all areas of our lives, and I don’t think this should be any different.”