This story first appeared in the November 2017 edition of The Hilltop.
Sexual assault is rising to the forefront of conversations and on campus, in part because five students were eager to talk about it.
It started as a project for Feminism and the Bible, taught by Allen Jones, where students implement projects to help women in some way. The End the Silence campaign was created to get students talking about sexual harassment.
In October, Ali Tesch, Danielle Wong, Olivia Schmidt, Beebs Gerlicher and Scott Noble chalked the words “me too at Corban” around campus. On Nov. 15, they hosted an event, flooding the Emitte Center, to discuss sexual misconduct and educate students on the issue.
“[Sexual assault] is an ugly thing to talk about,” Schmidt said. “We don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to admit it happens, especially at Corban where you give a statement of faith. And we think that anyone who gives that won’t ever do anything as terrible as this. It’s hard to start the conversation.”
Students sat shoulder to shoulder on the floor, with guests including faculty, community members and even reporters from the Statesman Journal in chairs behind them. Three students started the event by reading the stories of students who experienced sexual assault.
Following the stories, a panel with Brenda Roth, vice president of Student Life and Title IX coordinator; Alex Gowan, area coordinator for PVG; Lori Schelske, clinical mental health counseling director; Mike Roth, director of Campus Safety; and Nathan Geer, dean of students, answered questions from the group and from the audience about sexual misconduct on campus.
According to Wong, the event’s objective was to educate, mobilize and empower students. “We want to let students know this is a problem on campus that happens,” she said. “We hope to empower students to report and come alongside each other. Through empowering, we want to mobilize students to continue the conversation.”
While the “me too” campaign, which resurfaced on Twitter in October, did coincide with the group’s project, Brenda Roth believes it was just one reason the subject gained momentum.
“There have been different eras where the students have gotten really involved and interested,” she said. “Every once in a while, something catches people’s attention and hits them personally. Maybe it’s somebody they know, or it’s a compelling message. Or maybe it’s an injustice you hear about, and it causes something to rise up. Every couple years this is an issue that becomes a rallying cry for students, and I’m glad.”
Brenda Roth’s job, which includes being Corban’s Title IX Coordinator, includes three main responsibilities: to stop, address and prevent sexual and gender discrimination.
“When somebody comes in and says, ‘Hey, maybe this happened,’ my concern in that moment isn’t deciding whether or not it happened,” she said. “My concern is these questions: ‘What do you want me to know?,’ ‘What do you want me to do?,’ ‘What are you afraid about?,’ and ‘What questions do you have?’”
“We want to let students know this is a problem on campus that happens. We hope to empower students to report and come alongside each other. Through empowering, we want to mobilize students to continue the conversation.”
If the people approaching Brenda Roth decide they want justice for whatever discrimination they faced, there can be either a “little i” investigation, in which the students are offered support but no sanctions are taken, or a “big i” investigation in which investigators will determine, based on a preponderance of evidence, whether the incident was likely to have occurred and what disciplinary action will be taken, she said.
The objective, on page 12 of the Corban Community Life Walkthrough, is, “our commitment to participate with students in their growth and development, debunking the myth that if you break the rules you automatically get kicked out! (Galatians 6:1-2).”
While the policy strives to provide the chance to educate students who have violated rules, and does not immediately dismiss anyone, in the case of a sexual- or gender-related offense, school dismissal is more likely.
In the Walkthrough under the section for Title IX FAQ’s, the policy states, “Under certain circumstances, an individual found responsible for having engaged in sex or gender-related discrimination may be recommended for dismissal. This is particularly true if the incident under investigation includes an incident of sexual violence.”
“One of the things I appreciate about the conduct system at Corban is we don’t have automatics,” Brenda Roth said. “There are no automatic penalties. We try and understand the individual case. Logically, a dismissal is more likely to happen as a result of sexual assault than it is say crawling in the PVG window. So, yes, we have dismissed individuals for sexual assault, and we probably will again.”
She explained her focus is a fair process and investigation.
“If I do anything other than be an advocate for both parties, I take a side,” she said. “I’m committed to a fair and impartial process.”
That this system doesn’t guarantee that someone who commits sexual assault on campus will be dismissed has concerned some students, one of whom is Kaitlyn Arnold.
“I’m all for forgiving someone and trying to move on, but what if the victim doesn’t feel safe?” she asked.
“However,” she added, “as long as there are actions being taken to protect the victim, immediate dismissal of the assailant doesn’t seem necessary until it’s investigated more.”
According to Mike Roth, there are tangible steps students can take to find safety in the event they experience sexual assault.
“Get safe, preserve evidence, and call campus safety or police right away,” he said.
At the event, Brenda Roth emphasized the importance of students understanding the issue and knowing what they can and should do to help because she said students are more likely to go to their peers first.
“We have a relational campus,” she said.
The event, which sought to bring together a community of people, was successful in reminding Arnold that she is not alone in her experiences.
“Through the compilation of stories, I learned that I am not the only one who has gone through something like this at Corban,” she said. “And learning about the resources that are here on campus—once I was aware that they existed—has been very helpful moving forward in my journey.”
William Parker also thought the event was positive and that it could be the beginning of much needed change.
“I was once again reminded about the damage that’s done when we continue to allow a façade of ‘we’re all Christians, so everything is fine’ to continue,” he said. “The culture we perpetuate doesn’t allow for women who are affected by sexual violence to speak up about it.”
To help women feel more comfortable speaking up, Schelske recommended a straightforward solution.
“Simply put, we need to stop blaming the victim,” she said.
One of the anonymous questions posed near the end of the event was about how grace and mercy play into the issue of fighting sexual violence.
“There’s nothing about mercy that says justice doesn’t exist,” Allen Jones said.