McMahon and campus clubs draw attention to sexual violence
Last week, the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance hosted Sexual Violence Awareness Week. The week was designed to address the issues surrounding consent and sexual assault on the Brandeis campus.
According to a report presented by Prof. Bernadette Brooten (NEJS) to the Faculty Senate for its Nov. 1 meeting, "over the four years of their undergraduate career, 95 Brandeis males and 385 females (they don't account for gender non-conforming individuals) will have experienced attempted or completed sexual assault."
According to the Facebook event page for the week, FMLA wanted to focus specifically on "beginning a discussion on sexual violence on college campuses, educating each other about sex and consent, and making steps to create a positive culture around consent."
There were a series of events, including a workshop with Harvard Law professor Diane Rosenfeld concerning the legal tools at hand for students in acting upon a case of sexual assault.
Allison Callahan '16, a member of FMLA who attended the workshop, said she found the event interesting, especially when Rosenfeld pointed out the power that the University possesses as a private university.
Another event was a workshop titled "Crisis Response Training," hosted by Sexual Assault Services and Prevention Specialist Sheila McMahon, which focused on educating people on "how to respond to a crisis and help those who have been affected," according to the official event description.
McMahon was hired as Brandeis' first sexual assault services and prevention specialist in 2013 in response to a call for Brandeis to act on several cases of sexual assault reported on campus. McMahon is an advocate of bystander intervention training, which trains students to instruct other students about intervening in potentially dangerous situations as well as educating their peers on consent. McMahon said in an interview with the Justice that the theory behind bystander intervention focuses on "widening the frame" and helping individuals to identify warning signs to look for in cases of potential assault instead of simply focusing on individual actions such as watching how much someone drinks.
McMahon said that she is working on reaching out to clubs, varsity sports and other groups on campus to educate students on how to recognize a "compromising situation" as well as what it means to give consent. She is also currently working on incorporating bystander intervention training into orientation for all incoming first-years.
A recent development in making Brandeis aware of sexual violence on campus was unaffiliated with the FMLA. SpeakOut! Brandeis, a student-led anonymous group focused on allowing anonymous submissions of stories from the student body concerning sexual assault, recently launched a Facebook page as well as a blog. The posts include stories of assault, of close misses and of support for what the blog is doing.
According to the group's Facebook page, SpeakOut! Brandeis' goal is to "promote awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault" and provide a number of methods in which to submit online as well as through the intercampus mailbox system in order to give the submitters complete anonymity.
Callahan said she saw this movement as a positive step for opening the discussion of sexual assault because this way people will be able to speak about their experiences without the "backlash."
McMahon also said that the students behind SpeakOut! Brandeis, some of which she has talked to, were "courageous" and were providing an opportunity for others to be courageous. She noted that it is a "social risk" to submit one's story, and said she even anticipates that some people will come out with their stories in person because of the growing support and community in the University precipitated by SpeakOut! Brandeis.