While browsing whitmanencounters.com one day, senior Kate Kight saw a post that really scared her.
This post, written by a student whose friend had been sexually assaulted by an RA, contained responses from several students offering resources and support for the survivor, which Kight found heartening. Several responses, however, showed that students distrusted the administration’s ability to address issues of sexual assault.
To address this crucial problem, Kight and other members of Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE) are working to increase discussion of sexual assault on campus by giving survivors and other students the opportunity to share their stories, both in intimate settings and in community events like Take Back the Night.
Early this month, FACE organized a panel of students and administrators in order to address some of the tensions between students and the administration when discussing sexual assault.
“We wanted to provide a formal opportunity for students to say, â€˜Here’s why I don’t trust the administration,’ and for the administration to respond,” said Kight.
The panel was held on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. in Reid Ballroom. Speaking on the panel were four students, Associate Dean of Students for Academic Support Services Clare Carson, Associate Dean of Students for Student Programs and Activities Barbara Maxwell, Stuart Coordinator of Religious and Spiritual Life Adam Kirtley and Interim Assistant Director for Residence Life Anastasia Zamkinos.
Senior co-president of FACE Gabriella Friedman was pleased to see a variety of voices on the panel.
“I think it was good to have a combination of administrators and survivors. There was a good diversity of people speaking, in terms of their roles at Whitman,” she said.
One student panelist, sophomore Sam Fischer, was selected to provide unique insight from the perspective of a male fraternity member.
“I was trying to communicate that the goals of a fraternity are right in line with goals of promoting social well-being, that those things work together extremely well,” he said.
The panel proved not only to be an opportunity to talk about administrative policies, but also a discussion of campus culture in relation to sexual assault.
“It ended up being a really positive outcome. People seemed to really be interested in how we can change our culture and change our language to create an environment that fosters trust and care about each other,” said Kight.
Similarly, Fischer believes that his time on the panel was more about listening to others than just about sharing his own input, and he hopes to take what he has learned to help encourage men to be part of this new environment.
“The most significant thing has been people coming up to me … and talking to me after the event, in particular working with one person thinking about how we can just talk more with men and get better representation of men at these events. Fraternities are a great way to pressure people to go do things,” he said.
Junior Paige Joki, another student panelist, also felt that one of the most important aspects of the panel was that it provided the opportunity for further discussion.
“I am forever grateful to the folks that stayed after the panel ended and continued to raise thought provoking questions and seek to continue this discussion, and lend support to those effected by sexual violence. After the panel a few folks came up to me and we continued the dialogue several days later. I am proud to say that these necessary and productive conversation are continuing,” she said in an email.
Audience members who attended the panel were particularly struck by survivor accounts.
“It was so brave that people shared their stories,” said first-year Ellen Ivens-Duran.
First-year Emily Carrick agreed.
“People talked [more] openly than I expected. There were a lot of different perspectives. It made me think of sexual assault policies differently,” she said.
In addition to the recent panel, FACE hopes to continue dialogue about sexual assault in their annual Take Back the Night march.
Take Back the Night is an event held all over the world to protest rape and sexual violence. Usually it consists of a public rally and march against sexual violence, and then a vigil where participants can share their experiences.
This year, FACE plans to work with the leaders of community organizations, like the YWCA and Planned Parenthood, in order to encourage more non-Whitties to participate in the march.
Co-presidents Friedman and senior Madelyn Peterson also emphasized the importance of using Take Back the Night as a chance to widen our understanding of sexual violence. Instead of creating a women-only space, Friedman and Peterson wanted to show that sexual assault is an issue for a variety of people.
“We hope to highlight how race, class, gender identity and sexual orientation are part of sexual and gendered violence, bringing a more inclusive and broad lens into Take Back the Night ,” said Peterson.
The Take Back the Night march will be held on Thursday, April 18 at 8 p.m.
For Kight, events that initiate dialogue about sexual assault, like the panel and Take Back the Night, are necessary for creating change.
“This is an opportunity to validate, however this touches your life, that you have a story to tell, that every story is emotionally important.”