Let’s talk about Whitman’s treatment of sexual assault

Hailey Livingston, Columnist

Unless you’re brand new or really out of the loop, you are probably aware that Whitman has gotten rid of Green Dot. As a quick refresh, Green Dot is a bystander training program that aims to educate students on what to do in certain situations to prevent sexual assault. In theory, Green Dot is great, it’s meant to be a helpful resource, and in some cases it certainly is. But in practice, it’s completely ineffective. 

Funny skits about rape generally miss the goal to educate us about how to stay safe, and focus more so on making sure the audience isn’t uncomfortable. Talking about sexual assault and harassment needs to be uncomfortable. Rape is not a funny skit. 

Maybe Whitman saw this when it was decided to end the Green Dot Club, but the lack of effort Whitman has chosen to put into continuing the conversation about sexual assault and safety on this campus says otherwise. In the New Student Welcome Guide for 2021, the only mention of sexual assault training and prevention is an online module course that needs to be completed over the summer. 

The summer entering my freshman year, I completed the same online program (or at least the one Whitman assigned us at the time.) It was easy. It took about two hours (if I’m being generous). It talked about hook-up culture and how to avoid being sexually assaulted. In all honesty, I put very minimal effort into the course. At orientation, we watched some goofy Green Dot skits, had a brief “chat” about sexual assault and were then sent off into the world of college.

When that’s the extent of sexual assault providence given to an incoming class, it’s fair to say most of those students are going to assume that means Whitman College is a safe place where bad things don’t happen.

Sexual assault happens at Whitman. Title IX cases happen at Whitman; we are the same as every college across the country. It is not an out-of-character occurrence for Whitman College; it is an epidemic. No one knows that coming in—and that is the problem.

When we are not taught that on this campus, right where we are now, there are students being assaulted, we don’t think to watch out for it. Furthermore, when Whitman doesn’t talk about the repercussions of assaulting someone, perpetrators know they will get away with their actions. 

How could we be expected to know our fellow classmates are being violated and assaulted when all of the information and warnings are swept under the rug? When I was a freshman, I had no idea what I was walking into—no one did. We’ve painted a pretty picture that we are safe and supported, but why aren’t we informed?

Whitman has resources to help students understand the problems regarding sexual assault and overall party safety on campus. We have a Title IX Coordinator and an advocate from the YWCA. The problem is, most students aren’t aware these resources are available. I think I speak for a large majority of students on campus when I say there is a clear lack of awareness related to sexual assault and most people wouldn’t know where to start with receiving support. 

On the Whitman Title IX website, it says to contact the Title IX Coordinator with any sexual misconduct issues. The past two Interim Title IX Coordinators haven’t worked on campus or even lived in state. Because of COVID-19, maybe this was the only option Whitman could find and it didn’t seem like a big deal. But isn’t it strange that the person in charge of dealing with some of the most intense issues a student could be faced with doesn’t even have an office?

Part of Whitman’s problem with dealing with sexual assault and party safety is the administration’s lack of knowledge regarding what actually happens at parties. The Title IX Coordinators may be educated, but they can’t possibly understand how to help when they are inevitably unfamiliar with the actual lived experiences of students on a campus four states away.

Of course, this is a tricky problem to solve. If Whitman was upfront about the past problems with sexual assault and the continuing problems now, it wouldn’t exactly “sell” the school. Whitman doesn’t want a “Red Dot” reputation.  

If Whitman College and members of our student body don’t start doing better and putting in the effort, this will never end. What is happening now is sad, and we should be upset and concerned. Whitman needs to be open with us and keep us informed on what is happening. Whitman should be putting more effort into educating incoming students on the clear expectations and consequences of Title IX. We should know exactly where to go when we need help. Whitman, please, do better.