Discussion on sexual assault focuses on educating students

The conversation highlighted the need to spread awareness about campus resources and to provide education that is inclusive of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

Syracuse University students and staff gathered Monday night in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium for a candid conversation on sexual and relationship violence across cultures as part of the It's On Us Week of Action.

Sexual assault is not just a Syracuse University problem, it affects people of all genders, races and ethnicities around the world, said moderator Cathryn Newton, a professor of earth science and member of the Chancellor’s Task Force on Sexual Violence Prevention, Education and Advocacy.

Newton opened the floor to the attendees to discuss challenges and experiences in delivering sexual assault prevention and education to this diverse community. She stressed the importance of respecting everyone's beliefs, background and privacy to create a safe space for honest dialogue.

One major challenge echoed by several attendees was the need to debunk the myth that only women are victims of sexual assault, and to provide more inclusive education. People of all gender identities and sexual orientations — men, women, lesbian, gay, transgender and queer — are affected by sexual and relationship violence.

When sexual assault does occur on campus, students should know their options, staff said. One student said victims may be fearful of undertaking a formal reporting process, especially if they’re away from home. This can affect international students studying at SU as well as domestic students studying abroad, she said.

SU is a globally diverse community that hosts students from 50 states and over 115 countries. International students make up 10 percent of the student body, and nearly 50 percent of domestic students study abroad every year, according to the SU website.

The Sexual and Relationship Violence Response Team provides 24-hour access to on-campus, confidential and privileged resources. The SRVR team provides counseling and support to students regardless of whether they ultimately decide to make a formal report. But not all members of the community receive enough information about resources like the SRVR Team, a graduate student said.

Graduate students may not be aware of New York laws or SU policies, so this education should be routinely included in graduate student orientation, she said.

In addition to spreading awareness about campus resources, multiple faculty members said SU should encourage alternative methods of communication to overcome language and cultural barriers surrounding sexual assault education.

For example, one professor said students often open up about sensitive topics through the study of literature and art that address themes of sexual and relationship violence. Classes about such works of art provide students a safe space to discuss the issues without feeling like they have to disclose personal information.

But this method of education may not be accessible to students in all programs. One science student said that while liberal arts, policy and journalism students are exposed to these discussions in their classes, students in disciplines like computer science or engineering may not have the same opportunities.

After over an hour of dialogue, Newton closed the discussion, saying she hoped it was the first of many open conversations about sexual assault on campus.

It’s On Us is a national campaign launched by the White House last year and adopted by SU to spread awareness about sexual assault on college campuses. The It’s On Us Week of Action continues at 7 p.m. Tuesday night with a screening of The Hunting Ground, a documentary film about rape on college campuses in the United States. The 60-minute screening will be in Hendricks Chapel followed by a panel discussion with key stakeholders on campus.

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