Dialogue on Sexual Assault: Is Anyone Really Talking?
By: Ha Truong
As a new writer for the Women’s Outreach and Resource Collective and a beginning public feminist, I was curious to see how the “Dialogue on Sexual Assault.” led by the Equal Opportunity Office, would unfold. This event was held in room 248 of the Miller Learning Center on Wednesday, Oct. 29. I surveyed the room: students and faculty, with more women in attendance than men, filled most of the 200 seats.
In attending the “Dialogue on Sexual Assault”, I learned more about the resources offered to students who have been sexually assaulted. These resources included the Equal Opportunity Office, the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention group (RVSP), the University Health Center, Student Support Services at the Tate Student Center, the Athens Police Department, and The Cottage. I also received the impression that the representatives of these resources wholeheartedly agreed on stopping all forms of sexual assault — from sexual harassment to rape — and that education about human sexuality and sexual violence was essential.
Although there was a strong consensus when it came to stopping sexual assault, two other discussion points remained with me. First, although people agreed on more education about human sexuality and sexual violence, everyone questioned how such education would be implemented, when such education should be taught, and whether to make such education compulsory or voluntary. Secondly, at the end of our discussion, an attendee brought up the question of whether the University of Georgia should establish an on-campus women’s center. Although everyone in the room exhibited strong agreement on stopping sexual assault, I personally did not see great enthusiasm for the establishment of an on-campus women’s center.
Representatives from these resources and attendees argued for more education about human sexuality and sexual violence, especially for college students. Many people were in favor of mandatory sexual education programs for incoming freshmen and that these programs should be repeated every year because when programs are voluntary, as seen in on-campus housing programs, attendance can be dismal.
For example, in Brumby, Creswell, and Russell — the three largest freshmen dorms, housing almost one thousand students each — attendance at sexual violence programs was 40, 20, and zero respectively. The attendance differential was attributed to RA encouragement and promotion. However, even in the case of Brumby, the great majority of attendees consisted of female students. While it is excellent that female students want to be more aware about sexual violence, a representative from University Housing stated that it is extremely difficult to get male students to attend such events.
Near the end of “Dialogue on Sexual Assault”, a female attendee addressed the question of establishing an on-campus women’s center. She argued that while there are resources for UGA students in search of sexual assault resources, and that we do have resources where we can engage with other student organizations on issues of gender equity, UGA ultimately does not have one central, public women’s center that can house all these functions.
Representatives from these resources believed that the UGA community had ample resources; the resources available were spread out on campus and housed unique functions. If a student wanted to press legal charges, he or she could go to the Athens Police Department. If a student wanted to look into an administrative process for pursuing sexual harassment, he or she could go to the Equal Opportunity Office. The RVSP group offers programming and involvement with student organizations while the University Health Center focuses on medical care. If a student wanted to report a sexual assault without involving any UGA entities, he or she could do so at The Cottage. While all these resources offer unique functions and carry out their functions well, I could not help but feel that these representatives were complacent with the present resources offered to students and that an on-campus women’s center was not needed.
As an advocate for the women’s center, I felt discouraged after the “Dialogue on Sexual Assault”. We live in times where the feminist movement is growing and the attention on gender inequity is bright, but here at UGA, where over 60 percent of the student body is female, we have not established a women’s center.
A women’s center would offer a central location for students who have experienced sexual assault, a space for programming an bringing together student organizations and community groups on issues such as gender equity, and house resources for students interested in connecting to faculty and research on gender issues.
However, for me, the establishment and the subsequent success of a women’s center on the UGA campus would signal the acceptance of the gender equity movement and a more tolerant and open atmosphere, one conducive to working on gender issues in conjunction with social justice initiatives.
I am slowly learning the theories and rhetoric behind feminism, but I am aware of how difficult it is to talk about and raise public awareness about gender inequity in the conservative South, let alone the intersections of race, class, and gender, and how those contribute to violence and social injustice. Before we can start examining how we should implement sexual education programs or even establish a women’s center, we must be able to discuss issues of sexual violence and gender inequity in our communities, no matter how uncomfortable those conversations may seem to be, with peers of all genders.
All it takes is small steps; I try to talk about current events with my roommate and close friends and share news articles online and in person. Ultimately, I believe equality starts with the courage and openness to share and listen to other people’s experiences, but I believe that we, as students of the University of Georgia, are up to the challenge.
[Image: Michigan State University]