By Greyson Scudder
College campuses around the nation are becoming more and more open to discussing the often-intimidating issue of sexual assault, and Millsaps College is no exception. In addition to defining sexual harassment “as unwelcome, gender-based verbal or physical conduct,” in the student handbook, “Major Facts” Millsaps, under the Title IX legislation, provides workshops for understanding assault, information on both reporting and consent, as well as requiring all students entering Greek life to watch the documentary, “The Hunting Ground,” on sexual assault within college campuses.
“It’s not something I’m aware of. I mean, it probably happens, but I’m just not aware of it.” said Riley Fobare, a freshman member of the Kappa Delta sorority.
Part of this new education includes The Sexual Misconduct Education Committee (SMEC) — a student and faculty-led group working to educate about and stop sexual assault, working alongside the Millsaps theatre department to create real-life scenarios in order to further educate students, in addition to documentaries and workshops, according to Lori Genous, one of the Title IX coordinators at Millsaps.
Genous continued to say that the education also focuses on both sides of sexual assault: teaching both victims and potential victims, as well as perpetrators and potential perpetrators. The idea is to make it impossible to accidentally commit sexual assault, and make all students more aware of it at Millsaps.
When asked about whether he received enough sexual assault education, Jacob Niehaus, a freshman member of Kappa Alpha, said “Definitely. [Sexual assault] is big here, so they sat down all the freshmen, and then, going Greek, we’ve also had at least two talks with Dean Katz.”
This is a significant change from previous years, where the education was much more passive, usually just through oft-ignored bulletin boards or emails, than it is today. Since the changes on how Millsaps handles sexual assault, however, there has been a significant uptick in reported cases, with four reports in the fall semester alone, as opposed to the one to two annual cases, per the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report for 2016-17.
To understand the problem of reporting sexual assault on college campuses, one must first understand Title IX and how it relates to sexual assault. Dr. Brit Katz, Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students said Title IX was initially meant to ensure that everything a man had access to, women had access to “in proportionate numbers.” The law was passed in 1972 to prevent gender discrimination in education, but per Katz, it was modified by the Obama administration in 2011 to prevent sexual misconduct based on that same discrimination. All colleges and universities that receive federal funding, including Millsaps, are required to adhere to Title IX policies.
Director of Campus Life Will Takewell says that the legislation does more than create the “50.1%” number, the likelihood that someone did or did not commit an act of sexual assault required to determine responsibility. It also does more than create the conduct board, which hears the cases of sexual assault if they cannot meet an informal resolution, that are often associated with Title IX.
“It’s more than just that…It’s looking at what are we doing to sort of prevent on the front end, to keep these things from happening,” Takewell said.
Title IX is a mandate that creates the workshops and information to prevent sexual harassment, not just punish those that are found guilty, and on Millsaps’ campus those trainings appear to be working. Dean Katz said, in three of the four cases in fall, a student suggested to the Title IX administrators that the frequent participation in the workshops and presentations raised their level of awareness, of whom they should turn to and for what result.
Niehaus agrees with the effectiveness of the education, saying “[Sexual assault] isn’t really something I’ve thought about, because I went to an all-boys high school, but it’s definitely prevalent.”
Despite the increase in reported sexual assaults, Dean Katz feels optimistic about the sexual assault and consent education for students.
“I think it’s a good thing. The reporting of incidents indicates that students are bringing it our attention,” Katz said.” “If bringing it to our attention ultimately leads to our culture changing, I think that is powerfully positive.”
Katz says that while the incidents themselves are unwanted, the fact that they are being reported at a higher rate is a good thing for the Millsaps community.
Takewell attributes this increase to the raised awareness of the reporting structure for sexual assault.
“That’s where we have seen our work get more important on this issue, because students know they have this right and this responsibility to report things,” said Takewell. The idea is that students are starting to report previously underreported incidents.
When asked about her perception of sexual assault at Millsaps, Abby Bullock, a freshman member of Kappa Delta said: “If it happens, [victims] don’t really talk about it, but if it is said outside, people try to deny it, saying ‘Oh, that would never happen to me.’”
This is the sort of culture change that Katz refers to, turning the idea of underreporting, and making sexual assault an issue that students, both male and female, are aware of.
Reporting Sexual Assault
1: The victim reaches out to Lori Genous or Jamie Fisher as Title IX coordinators. Though one may talk to a trusted faculty member, or campus security, they will generally advise the student to contact the coordinators.
2: Give an initial narrative to either of the coordinators, who will see about available resources to support the victimized student, and discuss desired consequences for the offending party (i.e., a non-contact agreement, an apology, etc.)
3: The coordinator will then contact the alleged perpetrator, and get his or her side of the story. During this time, the coordinator will also collect information from witnesses, generally three from each side.
4: All this information is gathered into a final report, written by the coordinator, including testimonies from both the victim and the accused, and the reports from the witnesses.
5: Dean Katz, Jamie Fisher, Lori Genous, and Julie Daniels (the faculty Title IX coordinator) meet and discuss the case. They determine how the case should proceed, via informal (which involves the victim and the accused discussing what happened with the coordinators and each other) or formal (the hearing before a board) resolution.
6: The resolution proceeds.