Sexual Assault Teach-in sparks conversation

On Sunday, the College Union Ballroom hosted the Sexual Assault Awareness Teach-In, an effort to increase awareness and prevention of sexual assault on campus.

In a survey distributed to all students last semester by the organizers of the teach-in, 25 percent of respondents reported that they had been sexually assaulted. About 15 percent of women and eight percent of men said the severity of the assault was great.

A recurring theme of the teach-in was that, in order to effectively prevent sexual assault, community members need to recognize that it does happen on Geneseo's campus and that there are different ways for everyone to take action against it.

"We all have obstacles," said Dorothy Edwards, founder of the Green Dot sexual assault prevention program and guest speaker at the teach-in.

In her hour-long discussion of how best to reduce the frequency of sexual assaults on campus, Edwards listed what it is that keeps people on the sidelines when action could be taken.

In a sexual assault situation, the victim and the perpetrator are not the only ones involved, she said. There may also be 20 to 40 bystanders in the general area.

The large number of bystanders, though, can often be problematic as it can lead to the issues of a "diffusion of responsibility," where everyone believes someone else can provide better assistance, and of "evaluation apprehension" – a fear of social embarrassment. These personal obstacles allow sexual assaults to continue to happen everywhere.

"We either figure this thing out or we just pass around a pad and we write down the one in 10 or one in eight we're willing to sacrifice," Edwards said.

Her message was one of understanding sexual assault and overcoming personal obstacles to perform what she calls "green dots."  In a world where red dots are sexual assaults, green dots are the good acts that bystanders can do to prevent them, she said.

"We can bring these numbers down," Edwards said. "This is not only doable, this is well within our reach."

Edwards said it is important to understand that sexual assault is a topic that involves both men and women. Though it is impossible to get everyone involved, she said, most people are willing to overcome common misgivings and do something small to make a difference.

The steps to increase awareness are simple, Edwards said: We must educate ourselves about what sexual assault looks like on a college campus, know our sphere of influence and maximize how we spread information within it, believe that change can happen and reflect on our own personal obstacles.

Edwards stated that it is often easy to pass off responsibility in a college environment that boasts a multitude of different authority figures as well as numerous opportunities for alcohol to impair our decision-making skills. She cited three Ds – direct, delegate, or distract – as a guideline for concerned bystanders.

If our personal obstacles keep us from directly managing a situation, we still have the ability to delegate the responsibility to a figure of authority or distract the perpetrator, she said.

"She wasn't asking us to all become people that we're not … just to apply these four steps," said senior Katie Allen.

After the lecture, Edwards held smaller discussions with audience members at their tables. The conversations were intended to be hopeful, in light of Edward's message of empowerment, while acknowledging the painful nature of discussing something as traumatic as sexual assault.

Senior Jessica Okoniewski brought the idea that students can make a difference at Geneseo to her group as its members talked about how to improve the culture of the campus.

"It's gonna take time, but I think it's possible and I would like to see it happen at Geneseo because it has this great reputation as being a safe campus and such, but the stats are pointing in the other direction," she said.

Okoniewski said that she thought the group talks worked well to address sexual assault and the ways in which Geneseo can improve its environment.

"More kids on campus need to be aware about how much [sexual assault] actually happens on our campus alone, not just other campuses," she said.

"The program struck an important balance between the need for structural change and the need for all individuals in our community to take action to stop the problem of sexual assault," said facilitator Beth McCoy, a professor in the English department.