Sexual assault teach-in planned for next year

In response to a report released earlier this year by the Center for Public Integrity, in addition to other concerns among members of the Geneseo community, a committee is planning a teach-in on sexual assault for next year.

"We need to have a more comprehensive approach to how we talk about sexual assault," said senior Isobel Connors, who has helped to plan the grassroots movement toward an organized teach-in.

Jennifer Katz, associate professor of psychology, and Melinda DuBois, administrative director of student health and counseling at Lauderdale Health Center, are the leading members of the steering committee currently planning the event.

"It really is a yearlong process," DuBois said. "We're hoping the work in the fall will spur action among other groups and expand the conversation."

During the fall semester, group facilitators will be trained to lead discussions during the actual teach-in, which will take place in the spring. Reading materials are currently available on myCourses under the open community group "Sexual Assault Teach In." Students, staff, faculty and administrators are encouraged to join this group.

"We want to make sure that we do the very best we can to confront an issue that faces most campuses," Katz said, noting that because the official campus crime statistics reports lists zero forcible and non-forcible sexual offenses for 2007 and 2008, some may come to the incorrect conclusion that rape is not a problem at Geneseo.

"I think many campuses have a reporting policy which skews the image of the campus," Connors said, adding that a potential long-term goal of the teach-in is to change such policies.

Katz added that another possible long-term goal is introducing ways of responsibly discussing sexual assault into the curriculum - one option being the creation of new courses.

Connors spoke about the teach-in's focus on "enthusiastic consent."

"We want to have a positive approach, be pro-sexuality," she said. Many of her own ideas, she said, come from a book by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti entitled Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape.

According to DuBois, organizers will make a concerted effort to be inclusive and comprehensive. "Different perspectives will be brought by different participants," she said.

"There's this worry that if we're going to talk about this, then we're going to say things like 'all men are bad' and 'all women are weak,' but that's not how this conversation is going to go," Katz said. "We also won't presume traditional gender roles or heterosexuality."

"We want to have the teach-in address intersections of sexual assault and ableism, race and gender relations," Connors said.

Students, faculty, staff and administrators can become involved right now by joining the myCourses group or contacting Katz or DuBois.