Emotions from the Kavanaugh confirmation are still raw for many students, and on Monday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m., students, pastors and even President Frandsen gathered in Post 95 to participate in a panel addressing how Wittenberg handles sexual assault on campus. Four faculty members on the panel offered information on campus resources and responded to students who were ready for answers.
“We were angry,” said Ilse Hassler, a junior who helped plan the event. “We thought it would be more productive to use our anger to plan something productive than to just sit around and complain.”
On a budget of zero dollars, this productive plan became a panel with speakers Kevin Carey, Casey Gill, Hannah Brown and Chief Jim Hutchins.
The “What is Witt Doing” panel was the first event during the campus’s All in for You Week of Advocacy, a series of activities designed to bring awareness to sexual assault.
Olivia Riddle, a first-year transfer student, is one of the students behind this week of advocacy. She served as the emcee for the panel.
According to Riddle, the week was created “in light of certain recent events, such as sexual abusers being on the Supreme Court.”
Other student planners and Brown said that the Kavanaugh case and the current political climate spurred extra conversation on campus.
Hutchins, police chief at Wittenberg for the past four and a half years, responded to student inquiries regarding a recent increase in timely warning emails. He said that he believes more timely warnings do not mean more assaults on campus.
While the sexual assault statistics are not yet available for 2018, in 2017 reported rapes increased on campus from three to five, while forcible fondling decreased from six to five.
According to Gill, the university’s Title IX coordinator, the uptick in emails could be the result of more students reporting assaults rather than more students being assaulted.
Several panelists and students discussed the current culture on campus surrounding sexual assault. Sarah Hartman, a sophomore planner of the panel, said a goal of the event was to change the current culture on campus.
“Right now, there’s an uncomfortable atmosphere around the conversation,” she said.
However, Carey, the associate director of student involvement and the university’s Title IX investigator, said he was proud to work for Wittenberg in its current climate.
“I always feel uplifted when I think about the culture on this campus,” he said.
Brown, an advocate for Project Woman, connected the sexual assault climate to what she described as Wittenberg’s “blackout culture.”
“It’s actually something very dangerous, and it needs to be taken that way,” she said.
Carey said he is proud in part due to Wittenberg’s increased programming to educate students about sexual assault and their resources. These include Tiger Transport and police escort services, the Blue Light system on campus, increased police patrols through the residence halls and the police division’s web page with resources and instructions for students.
However, these resources are not always utilized by students. Hutchins said that the website and safety tips do not get all the online traffic they should, and the Blue Light phone system has never been used while he has been on campus.
Gill said the blue lights still serve as a symbol of safety, and Hutchins said Wittenberg is a safe campus.
According to Gill, the number of mandatory reporters on campus, a Title IX national mandate, can deter students from reporting.
“I think it’s hard for students figuring out who they can trust in terms of the initial conversation they want to have,” she said. “I think it would be ideal if students could talk to whoever they feel comfortable around.”
Hutchins reported that between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m., the police only had three calls for police escorts in a six to nine month period of time. Hutchins attributes this partly to the blackout culture and the student fear that they will be cited for intoxication.
“Here’s our spot: we’re trained. We know what it looks like when somebody’s intoxicated. If we were to drop you off and something were to happen, we’re liable for that,” Hutchins said. “I don’t want to say you wouldn’t get cited, but I don’t want to scare you not to call.”
Panelists reported that to continue to change the culture on campus, the university is looking into several new safety initiatives, including an app that can connect students to resources and programming through One Student, which will connect alcohol and sexual violence.
Brown said that in the current political climate between the Kavanaugh case and mainstream sexual assault allegations, it is important to reach out.
“This is a big deal,” she said. “This is a traumatic thing that happened. Even if you haven’t directly been impacted, you still feel this pain that other people are feeling. Everyone feels this way.”
Gill said Wittenberg tries to let survivors of sexual assault find their voice and determine what their next steps will be. Carey said students can help by discussing and normalizing healthy sex in social circles.
“If we can do sex, we can talk about sex,” he said.
According to the planners of the panel, this panel and advocacy week plan to foster this discussion.