A “scheduling change” and an aim to expand overall programming around sexual assault are responsible for the replacement of the Violence Against Women Prevention Program’s summer orientation, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Gilbert.
Discussions led by the Office of Wellness and Prevention will replace the orientation.
Many students who attended the UConn and Sexual Assault Forum, hosted by the student organization Revolution Against Rape on Monday, did not agree that the change would have a positive effect.
During the forum, Gilbert said students need to take issues regarding sexual assault seriously, and he mentioned that information about consent, lodging a formal complaint, seeking an investigation and using campus resources would be presented during the discussions. Gilbert explained he wants to extend what the VAWPP program has done well, giving a nod to their “social justice and feminist perspective.”
Some members of RAR argued this feminist perspective was what made the VAWPP program more powerful. One member explained that feminists are experts on gender equality and expressed frustration over gender-based crime being rerouted to health and wellness. This member was also concerned students would not be receiving the feminist perspective early on through orientation.
Gilbert noted discussions would continue through the Weekend of Welcome, the First Year Experience classes and through a possible online program for upper-division classes.
“Being redundant and being ongoing really matters,” Gilbert said.
Some students pointed out that neither Weekend of Welcome presentations or FYE classes are mandatory, whereas orientation is. Kate Metzer, a fourth-semester physiology and neurobiology major, said many students leave high school without a clear understanding of consent.
“Their idea of assault and rape is about saying no, where it’s really about saying yes,” Metzer said.
Metzer explained that if all students learn about consent at orientation, students couldn’t claim ignorance. “They come here with the knowledge of what assault is,” she said.
Both Gilbert and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Ellie Dougherty affirmed that affirmative consent would still be taught at the orientation program, although it would be from a different group.
One graduate student in attendance spoke on the importance of peer education in establishing a less hierarchical division between the facilitators and students. Gilbert agreed that peer education is a powerful tool. “I’m hoping that it’s something that we would sustain with the program,” Gilbert said.
The forum discussed a number of other issues pertaining to sexual assault, including confidentiality and the ongoing struggle with campus civility.
When one student asked why the Women’s Center cannot be a confidential resource for students, Gilbert explained that the university values “the benefits of reporting formally within the university’s structure,” and formally reporting knowledge of any sexual violence were priorities in ensuring that the university meets its “moral and legalistic responsibilities.”
Another student at the forum asked why, after meetings about hazing and campus civility, the university had not established a task force. Gilbert responded that the Undergraduate Student Government created a task force to look at matters of civility. The student asked why the task force was led by students instead of faculty or staff, to which Gilbert responded: “it’s not my job to tell students, ‘no, you can’t lead.’”