BETH MARTIN BIRKY
When student clubs first collaborated on a Domestic Violence Awareness Week in 2006, they couldn’t imagine the idea would morph into what we now know as Sexual Violence Awareness Week.
They would not have imagined the national move to use Title IX to hold colleges and universities more accountable for the way they handle sexual assault issues.
Nor would they have anticipated how Goshen College has shifted its approach to sexual misconduct and violence.
Of course, Goshen College has responded to sexual violence in the past, sometimes more effectively than others.
And at times, Goshen College has taken the lead among small Christian liberal arts institutions in addressing sexual violence. In the late 1980s, Student Life included information about sexual assault in a “Sexuality Packet,” which was distributed to all first-year students.
And in 2007, Student Life created the Sexual Misconduct Response Team (SMRT) to address sexual misconduct separately from other student misconduct.
While each of those efforts have had their limitations, they were important steps toward better information and more consistent processing of complaints.
But nothing has equaled the rapid pace of change that we have seen in the last year. Since the fall of 2015,
—We have a Title IX committee charged with overseeing resources for addressing sexual violence.
—We have 18 student bystander educators who have trained nearly half of the student body and increased understanding of the cultural factors that contribute to sexual violence.
—We have a revised web page with clearer information about options and resources.
—We have an online reporting link that lets students and employees report any type of sexual misconduct, ask for resources or request a formal investigation.
—We have employees with a new understanding of their role in reporting incidents of sexual violence to help students to access resources.
—We have a survivor support network to provide a confidential community for survivors.
Most important, we have courageous and committed students who are working hard to make this campus a safer and more supportive place. We also have a student body better equipped to recognize sexual violence and understand their own part in bringing about change.
We have more students who are working to make dorms, classes, gatherings of friends and personal relationships healthier, safer, more equal and caring. We have more students who know that, if they have experienced violence, they can be heard, their experiences honored and their healing supported.
And my colleagues are changing as well. I see many who work to address sexual violence. Some are more formally involved, like Title IX committee members, Sexual Misconduct Response Team (SMRT) members and the PIN Adviser. Many others work informally and personally for change in their classrooms as well as in their own relationships and communities.
Of course, we have much more work to do. I am saddened that Sexual Violence Awareness Week is as necessary today as it was a decade ago. I’m angry that sexual violence is still present in our society and on our campus.
But things are changing, and you—the students—inspire me to continue working for change. You have contributed to significant change in only one year. You have brought unique knowledge, experiences, passion, and commitment to a very difficult issue.
Many of you who participated in bystander education in the past year are making a difference in your daily choices about your own behavior and in your intervention in unhealthy situations you may encounter.
Goshen College students have often led change on campus. Student women organized the first performance of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues in 2002 and brought the first Clothesline Project to GC in 2004. Student men ran a “These Hands Don’t Hurt” campaign in 2006. Student women also coordinated the 4th annual Goshen Monologues. And each new generation of GC students will join the effort.
Change- particularly cultural and systemic change—is slow. But I celebrate the changes I witness each day and invite you to be a part of changing our campus culture and your own community.
I also invite you to pick up a bookmark about the faculty advocate or the flyer with resources available related to sexual assault. Visit the updated website: www.goshen.edu/sexual-assault/. More important, come see me in Newcomer 34 or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-535-6232. Let me help you think through your own struggles—whether big or small—and consider what resources might be best for you. Nothing would please me more!