Last Thursday, April 4, New Student Orientation announced its plans to integrate sexual assault education into Welcome Week’s itinerary. This year’s NSO will not include a mandatory sexual assault education workshop, but instead will offer a voluntary sexual assault awareness ice cream social as a part of Welcome Week, as well as integrating sexual assault education into already-scheduled events such as Pluralism in Action and AlocholEdu.
For many students, this announcement came as a disappointment. GUSA President Nate Tisa (SFS ‘14) and Vice President Adam Ramadan (SFS ‘14), who made sexual assault education a central element of their platform, are not satisfied with the plans. “This has to start at NSO, but cannot stop there. That’s why we are also focusing on training student leaders who play an important role in extracurricular and social life,” Tisa wrote in an email to the Voice.
Tisa and Ramadan also made sexual assault education a major goal in their 40 day plan of priorities to act on before the year ends. The plan seeks to make victim amnesty a part of the Student Code of Conduct. An amnesty policy, which protects victims from being prosecuted for actions such as drinking or drug use before being assaulted, currently exists as an unofficial University practice. Tisa and Ramadan believe making amnesty an official policy will help to alleviate victim’s fears and increase reporting of incidents. GUSA has already begun implementing their goal. Last Sunday, the Senate passed a resolution that calls for the University to include a mandatory event as well as an act which requires students associated with GUSA to undergo annual sexual education training through Sexual Assault Peer Educators.
Despite hopes for a mandatory workshop, the inclusion of a voluntary discussion as well as the integration of sexual assault in any capacity is seen as a sign of progress. Women’s Center Director, Laura Kovach, emphasized the progress the University has already made in raising awareness about sexual assault on campus. “Georgetown has a solid history over the last 10-12 years of providing sexual assault awareness and education through programs like RU Ready, Take Back the Night Week and the Sexual Assault Peer Educators,” Kovach wrote in an email to the Voice.
Although Residential Advisors currently receive training on these issues, it is reactive in nature, as its focus is on rehabilitation after an assault, and not prevention. Incorporating a mandatory event in NSO would aim to shift Georgetown’s culture so instances of sexual assault never happen in the first place. “We are very reactionary. We don’t really deal with it until after [sexual assault] happened, and after it happens there’s a whole new set of problems,” said GUSA Senator Pat Spagnuolo (COL ‘14), who introduced the bill that requires assault training for senators. “If you’re a survivor, risk reduction is immaterial.”
Tisa and Ramadan feel confident that by 2014 they will succeed in creating a mandatory event at NSO. But, delivering on this promise is far from guaranteed. NSO’s schedule is determined as early as February, and because NSO is the only time the entire incoming class will be together until graduation, every organization on campus jockeys for a time to attract new students. “The problem is there’s so many departments and it’s such a huge program, you need to get in there next November and make a lot of noise,” Spagnuolo said.
The fact remains that during the first six weeks of college more incidents of sexual assault occur than at any other time of the school year. Thus, NSO serves as the ideal time to reach out to students about the issue. Orientation Adviser Zach Singer (SFS ‘15) said that his prior OA training did not include training to discuss sexual assault, but he remains hopeful that the dialogue and attitudes are shifting. “I am really positively struck by the changing attitude I perceive on our campus with regards to the issue,” Singer said. “There has been a dedicated group of students working on bringing this issue to center stage on campus. I see a change in the amount of people positively talking about the issue.”
NSO coordinators, who are responsible for planning the events, did not respond to multiple emails.
Scheduling is only the tip of the iceberg. Although a mandatory NSO event about sexual assault would undoubtedly create awareness of sexual assault issues, the event in itself might not bring substantive change to student culture. Secretary for Student Health and Safety and SAPE leader Nora West (SFS ’15) works to inform the student body and provide them with the tools to become active participants in changing Georgetown’s reactive approach towards the matter.
“I think that a dialogue is a great way to start fostering discourse on campus, although a self-selecting dialogue doesn’t necessarily reach all the audiences we would like it to reach,” West said. “The major part about changing the culture on campus is talking to people who wouldn’t typically talk about sexual assault and you don’t necessarily get that in self-selecting welcoming programs, which is why our end goal is still including [mandatory] sexual assault discussion in NSO.”