Author: Daphne Auza
Students, faculty and staff members filled nearly two-thirds of Thorne Hall on Thursday morning to attend the Sexual Assault Task Force’s first Town Hall Meeting. The Sexual Assault Task Force scheduled the meeting to give the college community the opportunity to publicly raise concerns about changes they wish to see at the school regarding sexual misconduct.
Vice President for Institutional Advancement Shelby Radcliffe and Associate Sociology Professor Danielle Dirks, co-chairs of the Sexual Assault Task Force, began the meeting by introducing the other five members of the group: Emmons nurse practitioner Roberta Dacus, Senior Associate Dean of Students Erica O’Neal Howard, Associate Dean and ECLS Professor Jonathan Swift, Estrella Lucero (junior) and Aja Sanneh (junior).
The group, which formed at the beginning of the semester due to OSAC’s demands, first met four weeks ago and since then has met three times. According to Radcliffe, President Jonathan Veitch was originally a sitting member on the Sexual Assault Task Force but willingly stepped down after the Task Force decided that they wished to be an independent group. The Sexual Assault Task Force focuses on developing education, prevention and therapeutic processes concerning sexual misconduct and survivor support on campus.
“We are keenly aware of the need for action,” Radcliffe said. “I cannot stress that enough. But we are also keenly aware that these issues are complicated, emotional and difficult and they require careful analysis and thought. Our goal is to facilitate Oxy becoming a leader among colleges and universities around this issue. We are doing our best to work with purpose, transparency and urgency.”
Radcliffe and Dirks announced that the Sexual Assault Task Force will report their weekly meetings to the college community by email. They will also set up a virtual space on the Occidental College website where students, faculty and staff can access information about the Task Force’s activities and comment on weekly meeting minutes. The Sexual Assault Task Force will be submitting a campus-wide report on May 1 with an outline of their work and recommendations for how the college will proceed with sexual misconduct policy changes in the fall.
President Veitch spoke briefly at the event. Veitch recently announced that he had reversed his stance on establishing a real-time campus notification system for reported sexual assaults in a letter-to-the-editor and interview with “The Occidental Weekly.” At the meeting, he encouraged productive dialogue between the administration and students.
“I want to begin by honoring the anger and passion that’s led us to this place, but also find a way to take that anger and passion and channel it into meaningful conversation,” Veitch said.
As they filed into the auditorium, many students expected the meeting to be an important step in improving communication between the administration and the student body in regards to sexual misconduct.
“This is an issue that affects everyone on campus, so there’s no reason why everyone shouldn’t be here,” politics major Tyler Rosen (sophomore) said. “A town hall is addressing an issue in our community. I want to hear that the problems we have brought up before the campus community are being addressed.”
At the meeting, attendees spoke into microphones set up on either side of the stage. They also had the option of writing questions and comments on index cards available in baskets placed in the aisles. The Sexual Assault Task Force promised to compile all inquiries and address them on a public forum if they could not answer them in the hour allotted for the meeting. Dean Jorge Gonzalez acted as moderator for the discussion.
The questions raised by attendees of the meeting were not confined to the ongoing debate over an emergency alert system for reported sexual assaults; the variety of topics included sensitivity training for staff and students, the tone of the conversation on campus, the Clery and Office of Civil Rights complaints being filed by OSAC and the distinction between OSAC and the Sexual Assault Task Force. At the end of the hour, people were still lining up to speak at the microphones.
Survivors stepped forward to share their experiences, and a number of students requested that the school establish a more supportive space for survivors of varying backgrounds and sexual orientations.
“We need to change the dialogue so that everyone can talk,” critical theory and social justice major and survivor Maggie Ferrer Caneng (junior) said. “If you are a man, if you don’t know what you are, just have a voice, and I don’t see how that’s not possible.”
Due to the triggering topics brought up during discussion, a debriefing session was scheduled to take place in the JSC Morrison Lounge. Trained volunteers from Peace over Violence and Alliance for Autonomy were also present to speak with students after the meeting.
The Sexual Assault Task Force plans on holding more open meetings throughout this semester and in the fall.
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