Group drafts letter to address sexual assault on campus
Yesterday morning, a group of students self-titled Brandeis Students Against Sexual Violence delivered a letter to top administrators outlining the need for a more concerted effort to address sexual violence on campus. The signatories said that they hoped to spur a conversation and to work with administration to put their proposed changes into action.
Copies of the letter, signed by 20 undergraduates, were hand-delivered to the offices of University President Frederick Lawrence, Provost Steve Goldstein '78 and Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel early Monday morning. It was released online the same night.
The letter includes 11 proposed changes to campus life, ranging from providing students with additional bystander intervention training to the establishment of a permanent rape crisis center on campus.
In its closing paragraph, the letter states that "[a]s the semester is quickly coming to an end, we certainly do not want to see this crucial initiative fall by the wayside," and asks for "a formal response from the administration in a timely manner, and to reach out to [SASV] before April 14th to set a date for further conversations" in the hopes of implementing changes by the start of the fall semester.
"We're not giving them a deadline, of course, but we hope that they're going to be responding ... before the break," said Shota Adamia '15, who signed and helped draft the letter, in an interview with the Justice.
Later last night, SASV also emailed the letter to Dean of Students Jamele Adams, Associate Dean of Student Life Maggie Balch, Assistant Dean and Director of Student Activities Stephanie Grimes and Assistant Dean and Director of the Intercultural Center Monique Pillow-Gnanaratnam.
As of Monday evening, signatories to the letter said they had not received a reply from the senior administrators.
"Our goal is of course not to call out the administration; we are trying to work with them," Adamia said.
Adamia said that the group formed and began drafting the letter around the time that SpeakOut! Brandeis launched, in reaction to the blog and the response it was generating.
SpeakOut! is a Tumblr blog and Facebook page that allows Brandeis community members to submit anonymous posts about their experiences with sexual violence, assault and harassment.
"We of course support the work of SpeakOut! but we are not connected to them. But we highly support them and we think that their work is amazing," said Adamia.
According to both the letter and to members of SASV, the group's main goal is to eventually establish a permanent space for a rape crisis center on campus, as part of an overall effort to coordinate and centralize existing resources.
"We understand that this isn't going to happen during next semester ... that takes time and a lot of money," said Adamia. "But what we're trying to do before that is having still more coordination and more cooperation between the resources" on campus.
Their other requests and proposals include a call for "[c]lear and accessible information on existing reporting paths, options, and resources," a permanent, on-call crisis response counselor, a psychologist at the Psychological Counseling Center who specializes in sexual violence and trauma counseling, further training of staff, faculty and administrators on their Title IX rights and reporting responsibilities, "pro-social bystander intervention" workshops offered throughout the year, sexual assault response training for University Police, added steps to the on campus party registration process and an extensive campaign to combat and promote awareness of rape culture.
Sheila McMahon, sexual assault services and prevention specialist at Brandeis, helped the group significantly with feedback and advice, to "pinpoint" where improvement was needed and where structures were already in place, according to members Ava Blustein '15 and Andrea Verdeja '14.
McMahon, who started work at Brandeis this past November, has since coordinated outreach and education programs, including bystander intervention training, for clubs and other student groups at Brandeis, as well as during first-year and midyear orientation, according to a March 11 Justice article.
"Brandeis already does have so many resources and initiatives that do deal with this, so the idea is to bring them all into a coordinated effort," said Verdeja in an interview with the Justice.
According to Blustein, Pillow-Gnanaratnam also advised that "we should be adding on to existing things, not just reinventing the wheel basically. So we're not starting over, we're just proposing improvements and expansions," Blustein added.
SASV is an independent group; it is not a chartered or recognized club in the Student Union. Adamia said that SASV's members have no plans to institutionalize. Instead, they envision it as a loose, ongoing coalition of interested students.
However, some members and signatories of the letter are currently connected to other clubs on campus with interests in sexuality and sexual violence, such as the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and the Queer Policy Alliance.
"This is a very exciting week for us because we're finally doing this," said Adamia. "It's been very exhausting for the past couple of weeks. ... It really has consumed our entire lives. But we are very happy, and this, the letter to the administration, is the beginning of the dialogue, essentially. This is not the end of our work but rather the beginning."