Although the administration has long sought to broaden students’ academic horizons by inviting speakers and sponsoring discussions, this Tuesday the University, alongside The Hartford Courant and FOX News CT, brought together four experts to discuss an issue distinctly removed from the classroom. Part of FOX CT’s Key Issues Forum series, “The Person You Think You Know: Signs and Solutions of Campus Violence” explored sexual violence against women on college campuses, an occurrence that is unfortunately not unknown at Wesleyan. The discussion came in the wake of two tragedies, the death of Johanna Justin-Jinch ’10 last spring and more recently, Joanna Bourain’s ’12 Wespeak two weeks ago, making the symposium a difficult reminder of the ubiquity of violence against women and what could be done to eradicate it.
The panel featured four experts on the subject of sexual violence: Jaclyn Friedman ’93, a performer, the co-editor of the anthology “Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape,” and is herself a victim of sexual violence; Connie J. Kirkland, the director of George Mason University’s Sexual Assault Service, the only free standing office of its kind in the country, as well as an advocate for administrative action against sexual assault; and Janet Peckinpaugh, who spent 30 years as a broadcast journalist, has experienced domestic and sexual violence, and has been stalked in the past. Rounding out the panel was Claire Potter, Professor of History and American Studies at the University, who has conducted research on sexual and domestic violence against women. FOX reporter Lonnie Perez moderated the discussion.
While covering a variety of topics, the conversation focused on the nature of sexual violence and the role of the school administration in both handling and preventing its occurrence. While specific opinions varied, the panel was unanimous in its belief that university administrations generally do not do enough to help victims, and often even attempt to silence them, a sentiment shared by Bourain in her Wespeak.
“Except for schools like George Mason that have invested in an infrastructure that maintains an activist profile around violence against women, you find that schools are letting it go,” Potter said. “Frankly, we get an e-mail every time a student’s wallet is stolen on campus, but we never get one when somebody reports that they’ve been sexually assaulted.”
Friedman also pointed to the culture of silence surrounding sexual violence as a major problem.
“We have this myth that there is such thing as ‘gray rape’,” Freidman said. “And that you have to have physical bruises to have been assaulted, which is completely false. The silence begins even before the administration; it begins with the student body.”
Displaying the power of dialogue, members of the panel and audience shared personal, often difficult stories. All four panelists acknowledged the necessity of talking about sexual violence in both overcoming personal trauma and preventing the spread and perpetuation of such crimes.
“We have to become willing to have difficult conversations about difficult topics,” Friedman said. “Everybody has a role to play in not keeping things bottled up and having these difficult discussions.”
Finding hope and healing for victims of sexual violence, Peckinpaugh summed the night up with three words: communication is beautiful.