With the start of every school year, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to make sure that old and new students are safe, comfortable and well cared for. This year, besides the usual hassle of making sure everyone has their new schedules, living arrangements and proper insurance, Goshen College students and faculty added a little something extra–a student-led training program called PIN, short for Prevention Intervention Network.
Last year, two of the most talked-about topics at Goshen College involved sexuality. One was the Where’s My GLBTQ Prof movement, which campaigned to make it possible for non-straight staff members to be openly hired by the college. It was a strong movement, and when GC updated the policy it made headlines.
However, the other issue that was talked about was less publicized in non-college news: a training session for bystanders of sexual violence. You may have heard it already, but one in every four women is raped or sexually assaulted during her years in college. Usually the perpetrator is someone the victim knows. That is a one-in-four chance for every woman on every campus in the country, and it is much, much too high. No human being, regardless of sex, color or gender, should ever be subjected to such a form of violence, but the reality is that it happens. So what do we do about it?
I can tell you what I did. I got angry, because the alternative was being scared. I looked up information and felt betrayed, as a student, a woman and a person, when the numbers checked out. I read about survivors of sexual assault, and I wasn’t very interested in hearing anything but solutions (maybe not the best procedure, but wouldn’t you have been scared, too?)
What made me the angriest was the Goshen College Crime Statistics Sheet, where the college reports the number of different categories of crimes that happen on campus in a given school year. I didn’t know what to think when I saw the list of sexual assaults. Each column contained a zero. How could that possibly be factual, when I kept hearing about survivor stories on campus, and when the Sexual Conduct Response Team (SMRT) was working to help victims, and when that damning one-in-four statistic was quoted in my ICC class? So I wrote an angry Perspectives article, and railed against the system.
I don’t think I was wrong to be angry. Goshen College quotes zeros on the crime fact sheet because it can only put statistics out with the victim’s agreement, and that it is illegal to do so without it. The problem is that the crimes that happen aren’t always reported.
I also know that I was angry because I felt powerless, and because it felt like I was being lied to. I wondered if there was really nothing that could be done, nothing that could make people know that not everything about college is squeaky-clean, even in Goshen. It was not very fun to think that the numbers were wrong about something so important. I felt betrayed, because in every other respect, Goshen is a wonderful place to be.
So why am I still here?
The answer is this–Goshen College may not be perfect, but the people try really, really hard.
I started to regain hope through Goshen Monologues, and seeing signs around campus for the FIRSST (Functional Immediate Response Student Safety Team) student safety shuttle, which offers safe rides back to campus with no repercussions.
However, the addition that made the biggest difference and that felt like a concrete step forward happened just a few days before school started. Those before-school preparations I mentioned included bystander intervention education, where people who see others potentially at-risk take steps to ensure that they are safe. This program was student-led, with faculty and staff present and engaging in conversation. While the subject matter was difficult, it felt like a new beginning. The highlight of it all was when Launa Leftwich, the Dean of Students, promised that the Crime Statistics Sheet would be revised to include an acknowledgement that there were crimes that the college is not legally allowed to report. It may not seem like much, but it made my day. Thank you to all the students and staff who are making change happen, and if you are a new student here, just know that you should always feel welcome, safe and cared for.