Conn students seek a sense of urgency

It's not difficult to see a disconnect between the student version of Connecticut College's handling of sexual assaults and that of the college itself. 

A page one article by Staff Writer Lindsay Boyle and an opinion article by Conn student Will Canellakis, each of which ran last Sunday in The Day and on www.theday.com, portray the college's substantial efforts but also its missed opportunities in responding to complaints of sexual harassment and assaults and in preventing such incidents in the first place.

The college assuredly does not want to ignore students at risk or in crisis and in fact has a "Green Dot" bystander intervention program that serves as a model for other institutions. But neither does it want a high-profile problem. Comments by students interviewed in the two articles seem to suggest a lack of a sense of urgency, which communicates — what? "There's only so much we can do"?

We don't think that's the attitude of the college overall, but a seemingly slow response to an episode of voyeurism in residence hall showers made that a fair question in the minds of some students. After four months passed without a suspect being identified, they resorted to a visual that got attention: outdoor display of a shower curtain on which was written "Take Back Our Showers. We Demand Real Action." Arrest of a male student for voyeurism came in March.

It is a universal truth that should be known to anyone with an institutional reputation to protect: The image only gets worse as the problem grows stale waiting for those in charge to resolve it.

In spite of that missed opportunity to reassure students that inappropriate sexual behavior gets aggressively investigated, and thus avoid the shower curtain imagery, Connecticut College tries to do well by students who arrive at 18 years old  — legally adults — with vastly differing degrees of sexual experience, maturity, and risk awareness. This is the prevention part, and students need reassurance that enough is being done.

Staff and peer counselors must try to meet freshmen and also older students where they are. It's a formidable task with a long list of heavy topics on which to educate those who may not feel they need educating until something happens to them: consent, risk factors, disease protection, the dangers of getting drunk and vulnerable. It's also every parent's nightmare, that their mostly but not quite grown-up child will meet a situation they are not equipped to handle.

Besides the well-publicized Green Dot program of intervention by trained bystanders, the Office of Sexual Violence Prevention and Advocacy at Conn runs awareness programs and discussions on the range of sexual issues facing students about others' actions and their own. Yet students told The Day the college needs to do better at reaching everyone and, when an assault nevertheless occurs, persuading a victim to take advantage of the help offered.

Two steps the college should consider, in our opinion, would be to create a student-faculty-administration body specifically to share information and make recommendations to the sexual violence prevention office. An example of what students "know" and the administration appears not to have known is a specific partying location where drinking is rampant and sexual activity is prevalent. No one would need to tattle on anyone to make the whole group safer from nonconsensual acts — from rape.

And the college should separate its own institutional interest in its reputation from the higher good of helping a student who has been assaulted get justice. Rape is a major crime that should be reported to the police, and a victim needs more than just the advice that she or he has the right to report it. Unless a victim understands the reasons to take the matter further than on-campus counseling, it may not be enough, and it surely won't prevent a rapist from attacking someone else. 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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