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New London — Students at Connecticut College told U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Friday about programs at their school that they say help prevent sexual assault and serve as a model for other college campuses.
Several students talked about the "Green Dot" bystander intervention training they have taken and the SafetyNet peer education program they participate in. Several of the men said they belong to an all-male sexual assault awareness and prevention group, One in Four.
"The Student Life Office gives us the skills, things like Green Dot and SafetyNet, to turn to each other and educate each other and create a culture shift in a community that is really invested in keeping students safe," said Alia Roth, a senior.
The roundtable discussion was the seventh held in the past two months by Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, a statewide coalition of sexual assault crisis programs. Blumenthal is soliciting input before he shares his thoughts with a White House task force on protecting students from sexual assault. He said he visited Connecticut College to learn about its best practices.
Connecticut College is one of about 100 colleges and universities nationwide that have adopted the strategies of a nonprofit organization dedicated to violence-prevention education, Green Dot etc., to stop sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking - the "Red Dots." One in Four takes its name from the statistic that one in four women will experience sexual assault or attempted sexual assault.
Darcie Folsom coordinates these efforts as the college's director of sexual violence prevention and advocacy.
"We can continue to provide compassionate services to victims, but in an ideal world, we would be preventing crimes from ever happening," she said. "It's about having the student body realize we all play a role in ending the violence. The administration can't do it alone, policies can't do it alone. It needs to be a community effort."
Blake Reilly, a senior and co-president of One in Four, said students learn different ways they can intervene as bystanders to prevent sexual assault. If they do not feel comfortable being direct, there are other methods, which is why he said the training is "super helpful."
"The programs they've done have allowed us to all feel actively involved in the process," added Max Nichols, a senior. "That is what has led to the cultural shift. It's tangible on campus."
Susanna Mathews, a sophomore, said she was tired when she recently waited for a friend outside a dormitory and must have looked upset. She said several students, who she did not know, stopped to ask if she was OK and if she needed help. A freshman refused to leave and waited with Mathews.
"I don't know if they were a Green Dot grad or not, but that mindset has permeated our campus in a really impressive way," she said.
Casey Dillon, a senior, said each week on campus there is an event that is sponsored by one of the groups that belong to the college's broader Think S.A.F.E. Project to create a Sexual Assault-Free Environment. Roth said, "It's not even an option not to talk about it here."
There were 12 cases of "forcible sexual assault" on campus property in 2012, which is up from four in 2011 and eight in 2010, according to the college's crime statistics. Folsom has said that with the increase in education and awareness, the number of reported incidences has gone up.
Folsom told Blumenthal that prevention efforts need to be done differently, in ways that are accessible to students. While some students would not attend a talk about sexual assault, Folsom said she expects a good turnout at Sunday's "Rock the Green," a field day event where information about Green Dot will be handed out as students play games.
Blumenthal said he was impressed by the college's leadership on this issue. College President Katherine Bergeron and 30 students, staff and members of the local community participated in the discussion.
"You ought to be very proud of this college for what it has done and the frankness and courage it has shown in addressing this very sensitive and difficult issue," Blumenthal said. "There are some campuses and colleges we called to do one of these roundtables and they said, 'Why don't you get back to us. We're not yet ready.' I'm hoping your example will lead them to understand that the best ways to address issues of sexual assault is to face them. Denial is the worst way."
Laura Cordes, executive director of CONNSACS, said, "It's a very dynamic and promising time to address sexual violence."
Folsom said after that she was impressed with how articulate and passionate the students were. Their voices, she said, "are exactly what people need to hear as they are thinking about policies and procedures."