A Response To President Creighton's Email "Sexual Misconduct Awareness"

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My web event is a response to Joanne V. Creighton's (Haverford's Interm President) email earlier this evening. Please see her email below, followed by my response.

Dear members of the community,

It has come to my attention that several messages posted as part of a sexual misconduct awareness campaign were vandalized in a way that at the least trivializes sexual assault and at worst seems to promote it.

It is difficult to understand these actions in light of the values articulated in the preamble to our Honor Code: 

“As Haverford students, we seek an environment in which members of a diverse student body can live together, interact, and learn from one another in ways that protect both personal freedom and community standards. If a diverse community is to prosper, its members must attempt to come to terms with their differences; this goal is only possible if students seek mutual understanding by means of respectful communication. By holding us accountable for our words and actions, the Honor Code acts as an educational tool, instructing us to resolve conflicts by engaging others in dialogues that yield greater awareness for all parties involved. By encouraging respectful conduct, we hope to create an atmosphere conducive to learning and growing.”


I hope that those responsible for this defacement will take ownership of their actions.  Meanwhile, the Deans, the staff of the Women's Center and I are eager to do all we can to make our sexual misconduct policies and procedures responsible and effective. Please reach out to us --- and to student leadership -- with both your concerns and your constructive ideas.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
Joanne V. Creighton

Interim President

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The rightness of a relationship can be measured, ultimately, only by whether it is felt to be right by those concerned.

-       John. A Humbach[i]

 

President Creighton,

I am concerned. This doesn’t feel right…

The recent sexual misconduct awareness campaign led by Survivors Of Assault and Rape (SOAR) is a powerful example of respectful confrontation to our student community. As a friend to and classmate of the individual responsible for the idea of this campaign, a participant in the chalking and posting of the campaign’s messages, and a survivor of sexual assault, I have been both appalled by and disappointed in the disrespectful responses by some of my fellow students.

My largest concern is that this behavior is in gross violation of our Honor Code. This past spring, we re-ratified the Code, pledging that we continue to believe in the Code and its integral place at the center of what makes our community special. Most applicable to my concerns here is the following excerpt from Article III, Section 3.03, “The Code makes it possible for a climate of trust, concern, and respect to exist among us, a climate conducive to personal and community growth.” The Code, itself, is not what creates, fosters, and strengthens this climate. We, the students who live with and by its tenants, do. Without our individual and collective commitment to embodying the Code every day, the Code is nothing more than words that once meant something.

We create a right relationship as a student community when we live honorably. We maintain a right relationship as a student community when we confront each other for violating the Code. We reaffirm our right relationship as a student community when we re-ratify the Code, with or without amendments and modifications.

When members of our student community express frustration about being targeted as rapists by the posters we spread around campus, modify the posters that read, “Consent. Just do it.,” to “No Consent? Just do it.”, and tell me that I couldn’t possibly have been sexually assaulted at Haverford because “that just doesn’t happen here,” I worry. Their responses reveal their disrespect for members of our community who have experienced sexual assault and their unwillingness to listen and engage with this very serious community issue.

I believe we must consider sexual misconduct education and support both integral pieces of creating and fostering trust, concern, and respect on our campus. Every student deserves to feel safe in their dorm room, in hallways, on pathways, and all other social spaces. Each of us is obligated, in my opinion, to be educated bystanders in social situations where the possibility of sexual assault exists. We need to confidently intervene in situations where we recognize this possibility. “The bystander model gives all community members a specific role, with which they can identify and adopt in preventing the community problem of sexual violence. This role includes interrupting situations that could lead to assault before it happens or during an incident, speaking out against social norms that support sexual violence, and having skills to be an effective and supportive ally to survivors.”[ii]

This begins with sexual misconduct education as an entering first-year student. Each freshman needs to understand the relationship between the tenants of trust, concern, and respect in our Code with the importance and value of sexual misconduct education in fostering a feeling and reality of safety at Haverford.

Though, Customs Week is hardly the first moment in which they begin to think about what our Code means. Each applying student in our community writes an essay about the Honor Code when they complete the supplement to the Common Application to Haverford. Each admitted student signs a pledge on their honor instead of being asked to submit a deposit to confirm their admission. Each matriculating student entering our community is asked to read and sign the Honor Code before arriving in August. In each step of the process, a prospective member of the Haverford community is implicitly asked to reflect on our tenants of trust, concern, and respect. They must think about how their own life, before Haverford, reflects these values. They are encouraged to think about how their own life may be living with the Code while at Haverford. Throughout Customs Week, especially during “Super Honor Code Day,” Customs folk offer them perspective on how students live with the social code so that they may think about how to engage in a respectful manner with fellow students in residential halls, the classroom, the dining center, the playing field, the Go! Boards, and every other space on campus.

Since I entered as a first-year student in August 2009, Customs Week has had an excellent informational component about sexual misconduct through informing freshmen of the resources available to them around “The Circle” and from their Customs folk. The 2011 Customs Week Committee, of which I was a member, and the Deans’ Office are responsible for the more recent inclusion of an educational component to the sexual misconduct portion of Customs Week. Speak About It was the group invited to campus to give the class of 2015 a presentation on “consent, sexual assault, and bystander education” this past August. The presentation was amazing. Many first-year students I spoke to that afternoon thanked me for helping bring them to campus. Many current students talked to and/or emailed me in September to ask about the presentation and expressed their disappointment at being unable to attend. Many of them wished they had seen the presentation when they entered as first-year students.

I intend to contact Martha Denney, Raisa Williams, and Jason McGraw to ask if there is administrative support and budget funds to bring Speak About It back to Haverford next fall; I imagine they were very impressed by the presentation this past August. I truly hope there are enough funds in the Customs budget to bring them back every August. If not, I implore you to consider the benefits of arming every new first-year student with this education in spite of the cost. Moreover, I would like to advocate for institutionalized funding for this education. 

I believe institutionalizing funding for this sexual misconduct education for first-year students is the first step to help create a strengthened community commitment to safety and mutual concern. I hope and pray that respectful conduct will follow. In regards to the current climate of our student community on this issue, and in light of the negative student responses to the campaign, I think it is urgent to bring Speak About It to Haverford this spring to offer the same education to current students. I am continuing to think about how to encourage every student in our community to attend this event. I would absolutely love to hear from you about whether this might be possible and if you have any ideas to encourage student attendance.

Thank you so much for writing to our community about this issue and for listening to what I have to share here.

Most Sincerely,
Joshua Mussa ‘13

 



[i] Leiser, Burton M, and Tom Campbell. Human Rights in Philosophy and Practice. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate, 2001. Print

 

[ii] Banyard, Victoria L, Elizabethe G. Plante, and Mary M. Moynihan. Rape Prevention Through Bystander Education: Bringing a Broader Community Perspective to Sexual Violence Prevention. xii, 2005. Print.

 

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