UMW administration hosts open meeting in wake of completed sexual assault bills
By EMILY HOLLINGSWORTH
Administration at the University of Mary Washington held an open meeting for students on March 11 in the Faculty and Staff Dining Room at Seacobeck Hall. The goal of the meeting was to get student and faculty input about UMW’s campaigns regarding sexual assault and how such campaigns can improve going forward.
Administration present at the meeting included President Rick Hurley, who opened and closed the event. Other administrators included Doug Searcy, vice president for student affairs; Marissa Miller, coordinator for prevention and advocacy to the office of diversity and inclusion; Jonathan Levin, provost; and Leah Cox, UMW’s Title IX coordinator and special assistant to the President for diversity and inclusion.
Approximately 15 students and faculty attended the meeting. Sarah Chamberlain, a senior international affairs major, said she hoped the meeting would address students’ concerns about the importance of clear consent and the growing awareness of sexual assaults on campus.
“We want to get an answer for a question we’ve been asking for several months now,” said Chamberlain.
The meeting comes on the heels of critical developments in two bills recently proposed in the Virginia General Assembly regarding university provisions for students affected by sexual assault. Within the bills, Virginia colleges and universities are required to have a multidisciplinary sexual assault response team for sexual assault cases.
In addition, the response team is able to override a student’s desire not to report the case if the team believes campus safety is at risk. The bills also have provisions for students affected by sexual assault to receive multiple options for help and for campus law-enforcement to have victim sensitivity training. The bills have been sent to Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to be signed.
Hurley asked students their impression of the “Yes is the Key” campaign, which focuses on clear consent in intimate relationships. Hurley also announced the university was working on a video that questions the idea of non-verbal consent.
Students agreed consent should not be assumed, but believed the campaign should not only focus on clear consent, but also how to respect boundaries when someone says “no,” either verbally or non-verbally.
Other students said those who have been sexually assaulted before may freeze up and be unable to say “no.” Being able to recognize non-verbal cues could also prevent sex without clear consent. Christopher Kilmartin, a UMW psychology professor who has written extensively on sexual assault, said he believes that UMW should not only focus on the “Yes is the Key” campaign, but take quick and punitive action against students or faculty on campus who are perpetrators of sexual assault.
“Teaching people about consent is not going to stop sexual assault,” said Kilmartin.
According to Kilmartin, 90 percent of sexual assaults that have been committed have been done by serial offenders.
UMW currently has sanctions in place that can be taken against sexual assault offenders.
According to Ray Tuttle, director of judicial affairs and community responsibility, anyone who commits sexual assault on UMW’s campus will have violated the Sexual Misconduct Policy.
Sanctions toward offenders vary from warning to expulsion. These actions are based on the degree of the violation.
During the meeting, students also spoke about how to change college-aged students’ negative preconceptions of women.
Searcy said he believes that change needs to take place, but it will not be a quick fix.
“It’s going to take more time,” said Searcy. “But we need to be more intentional about it.”
Kilmartin proposed UMW back a peer-education program aimed toward men to challenge sexism.
“Men often act in sexist behavior to gain the approval of other men,” said Kilmartin.
According to Kilmartin, having a wide-reaching program that educates men on campus about sexism could create an atmosphere at UMW where both male and female students are respected.
Participants at the meeting also proposed having formal and informal support groups for male and female students who have been victims of sexual assault.
Hurley ended the meeting reassuring students that UMW is “upping [their] game” to combat sexual assault on campus.
Senior theatre and creative writing double major Tionge Johnson said she believed that the meeting went well, with faculty and students addressing the issue conscientiously.
“I was impressed by how well people associated with each other,” said Johnson.
According to Kilmartin, he was glad to hear Hurley say that while UMW is taking action, it will not come quickly and the university has a long way to go.
“We’ll wait to hear if the college is ready to invest their resources into [sexual assault education,]” said Kilmartin.