Dissenting Voices addresses College sexual assault policy

By Francess Dunbar
dunbarfr@grinnell.edu

Each year, Grinnell College’s New Student Orientation (NSO) provides incoming first years with an educational workshop on sexual conduct. The workshop has drawn ire in the past for presenting insensitive skits on different sexually charged scenarios, and though it has been overhauled in the past few years, some students claim it still does not do enough to accurately represent the problem of sexual assault at Grinnell.

Dissenting Voices, a student group committed to ending sexual violence, addressed disappointment with NSO’s sexual assault education by hosting a tabling event in the JRC last Sunday, Aug. 28. For two hours, they engaged students in a discussion about the reality of sexual assault on campus and handed out fliers with information and articles specific to Grinnell as part of a “Dis-orientation”.

“It was – and continues to be – all about sex positivity, which is great and important. But there’s an immediate jump to ‘and here’s the conduct process’ with no discussion of the realities of Grinnell,” said Maddie O’Meara ’17, a member of Dissenting Voices who has attended the NSO sexual respect talk for the last four years “It’s so irresponsible not to say ‘This happens here. This is a problem you and your friends will experience.’” 

Dissenting Voices believes that presenting the full picture of sexual assault at Grinnell, including the investigation being conducted by the Office of Civil Rights, is particularly important this year, as policy reform threatens to change the way alcohol is used both on and off campus. Some believe these changes put the incoming class particularly at risk, as first years who choose to drink are pushed out of the dorms and into houses owned by people they may not know.

“There were a number of times where you just saw a look go across someone’s face like, ‘what?’ Stuff about the OCR investigation. That should be common knowledge, but it’s kind of glossed over,”
said Halley Freger ’17, another member of Dissenting Voices.

Dissenting Voices also aims to create an institutional memory regarding sexual assault policies. By teaching first years about the College’s past policy missteps, they hope to keep the administration accountable on the issue. One problem they are currently working on is the lack of mental health resources for those who have been assaulted both on and off campus. Rev. Deanna Shorb, who works with Grinnell Advocates, agrees that the College needs to do more.

“I believe that the people running our counseling center on campus are doing the best job they can with the support they’re getting from the institution,” Shorb said. “I believe that the institution Grinnell College is not doing what we need to do to provide psychological support for victim survivors, for would-be respondents and for this entire college community. They’re understaffed, they’re overworked and we’re not doing what we need to provide support in the prairie. We don’t have it on campus, and we don’t have the resources to send them off. We know that, we’ve known that for more than two years.”

Shorb stresses that the fault lies not with the medical personnel in SHACS but instead with the administration for not providing adequate funding to support victims.

“They can’t move this college to spend the money it needs to spend. And many of us have been trying to persuade that it’s essential we do that. It concerns me that we might build buildings with the knowledge that we may not have students well enough to go to classes in them,” she said.

Moving forward, the leadership of Dissenting Voices would like first-years to take an active role in reforming campus. The group estimates they talked to around 50 students, but hope the information will spread throughout the class of 2020 and that the College will be more transparent during future orientations.

“It’s a hard conversation to have in a room of first years,” O’Meara said. “It’s hard to go up and say, ‘we are doing something wrong. We are failing you. We are failing your peers. And we have consistently been doing this.’