There has been a lot of discussion surrounding sexual violence on college campuses in the news, but has there been enough at Bates? Charlotte Cramer ‘19, and Ceri Kurtz ‘19, didn’t think so, and as a result they founded the Sexual Violence Awareness Club to help start conversations about sexual violence and the campus cultures that facilitate it.
“I don’t think a lot of people talk about this stuff and know this stuff. It’s a very quiet topic that not a lot of people think about, it’s really not their fault. I remember my first year thinking, ‘I know this is important, but this doesn’t really happen,’” said Cramer.
Co-president Kurtz shared a similar perspective, stating, “I personally think that there’s a population on campus that is very aware of the problem and actively tries to prevent or at the very least talk about it, but there’s also a large portion of people here that completely ignore the issue which is incredibly problematic, because a lot of those people are the ones who are perpetuating the problem–either through ignorance or intentional malicious enabling.”
Unlike other campus programs, such as Green Dot that is a top-down program fostered by the administration, SVAC offers a student-centered and student-run approach.
“Despite the fact that we have systems in place that will help people, there isn’t a lot of student support and student awareness, but obviously students are for the most part the perpetrators, they are the people that are standing by,” says Cramer.
The bi-monthly club meetings are discussion-based, similar to the Feminist Collective, another club on campus that deals with gender issues. Discussion topics have included staying safe during 80s dance, and consent, as well as an upcoming discussion on the ramifications of the Health Center’s new hours for those who have experienced sexual assault. There has been a fair amount of pushback from the student body over the changes of the health center hours, many arguing that the new and fewer hours are depriving students of resources that could be of aid in the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault. For those who are not aware, the Health Center is now opened only on weekdays from nine to five, and closed on weekends, which is when most sexual assault cases occur.
But SVAC is not just about talking, “There’s a lot of activism involved,” says Cramer, “not necessarily standing out in front of commons and shouting at people, but the kind of stuff where we’re just engaging with the campus.” Those students on campus over Short Term last year might remember SVAC’s art exposé, which they hope to continue this year.
SVAC truly aims to reach the entire campus community. “It’s about bringing everyone together, because it’s an issue that a lot of people have. It does not discriminate,” says Cramer. Naturally, they are looking to partner with other groups and clubs on campus, like FemCo and Outfront, as well as obtaining greater involvement from athletes on campus.
“Reaching out to athletic teams is an effective way of reaching out to a large and influential part of the Bates community,” stress SVACs community liaisons, Claire Sullivan ‘19 and Emma Rivas ‘19, “at this point, we are in the process of formulating plans to involve athletes. Peter Lasagna, the men’s lacrosse coach, is a huge advocate for programs such as Green Dot and other sexual violence prevention programs, so we are looking forward to possibly collaborating with him to open our reach up to the athletic community.”
In addition to discussions and education around consent and intervention, SVAC also approaches prevention from a self-defense angle.
“My philosophy is that everyone on campus should be highly aware of what consent means and should hold themselves responsible for their actions (I don’t think there’s such a thing as not being able to “control yourself” in making an advance on another woman or man). However, in practice, it’s much harder to reach potential perpetrators — because they’re likely the people that wouldn’t attend things like the Art Expose on Sexual Violence or undergo a five hour Green Dot training–so I think it’s important to also empower people by letting them know that there are options in self defense and the consistent option to say no, and give people ideas in ways to keep themselves safe,” says Kurtz. Co-President Cramer also mentioned a potential movement for a weekend long women’s self-defense course, in addition to the PE class already held at Bates.
Although they have ambitious plans, the mission of SVAC is simple: get students to recognize that sexual violence at Bates happens. “Our club is trying to make Bates students aware and cognisant of the fact that it is a real problem that happens on our campus,” said Rivas and Sullivan, “whether you see it or not, the only way to make our campus a safer place is to open up a dialogue that acknowledges the problem that exists.”
The Sexual Violence Awareness Club meets bi-weekly Tuesdays at 7:45 in Pettengill G44.