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My Clarion Call

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December 8, 2014

I am nearing the end of my Domestic Exchange at Barnard College in New York, NY. One of the more memorable experiences I had during the exchange was the New Student Orientation Program (NSOP). I felt like I was reliving my freshman year at Spelman College. All throughout, I was comparing my NSOP experiences.

In a joint talk with Barnard College and Columbia College students, faculty members went over policies about sexual assault and sexual harassment. They discussed the steps that campus safety and the police will take. They also discussed the multiple ways that students can access counseling services and primary care health services. They stressed anonymity and safety of the student body. I was astounded to see two active student organizations that address sexual assault. Students Active For Ending Rape and  Sexual Violence Response, especially emphasized the importance of empowering students through peer education and advocacy.

Aside from being told to remember the campus safety number, I did not know what the protocol was beyond contacting campus safety. The more and more I listened, the more and more I realized that I had no idea what my primary care health services offered on campus in terms of women’s health.

In my freshman year, I remember sitting in the gym with sweat clothes along with other anxious freshman. Campus safety representatives gave us very minimal self-defense training. One student would lay on the ground in an imaginary bed as someone was on top of her. We were provided with one or two maneuvers and that was the end of our training on sexual assault, violence, and sexual harassment. They preceded to tell us to walk in groups when going off-campus and that is all I can recall. Also, they enforce stringent dorm visitation rules.

I asked a fellow student how well she thinks Spelman addresses rape and sexual assault on campus. “Not well. I feel like the only reason the administration is doing anything about it is because they got called out on their lack of action. I felt like NSOP could have done better than simply giving us a class on self-defense”, said Ataesia Mickens, a junior Political Science major at Spelman College.

Under a section called Sexual Assault Awareness, Prevention and Advocacy, Spelman states:

“At Spelman, we believe that every woman has the right to be healthy and safe and that our community should be characterized by mutual trust and respect among all members. Although the Spelman community is a relatively safe one, our community members are not immune to issues of sexual assault and violence.”

While a ton of information is available on the college website about who to contact and what services are available, there is little to no peer or student education to supplement the information. I felt vulnerable during NSOP because I knew more about what my temporary school offered than I knew about my own school; the place I call home. I want to be able to help my Spelman sisters as well as advocate on my own behalf.  I am sure we can all attest to the importance of  students being accountable by knowing what services schools have to offer. I would also add that colleges and universities have an obligation to meeting us halfway by educating its students during NSOP.

Under a section about Title IX, Spelman states:

Spelman College is committed to providing an environment free from discrimination, including discrimination based upon sex.  The Title IX Officer is responsible for coordinating the College’s compliance with Title IX, including overseeing all complaints of sex discrimination, including sexual violence, and identifying and addressing any patterns or systemic problems that arise during the review of such complaints.

I ask that we not only comply to Title IX, a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in educational institutions, programs and activities. I demand that we also empower the global leaders that pass through Spelman College about protecting our safety and well-being as well as teaching people from the communities we come from to do the same.

Because Spelman College is part of a larger community that includes Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, students from all of these schools must be engages in this conversation.

“Whenever there is a case of sexual assault on this campus, both Morehouse, the all-male college and Spelman College brush it under the rug of respectability to hold their images,” said Takelion Thompson a junior Physics major at Morehouse College.

This is a phenomenon that every college and university confronts. The emphasis on black excellence and morality at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) makes addressing sexual assault and violence even more difficult as well as pressing.

I am a strong believer in accountability. It is for this reason that  I want to be instrumental in educating myself and my community about the services available at my institution

When I return to Spelman College in the Spring, I will be talking to faculty and students from my school and the surrounding institutions about expanding the New Student Orientation Program to include discussions about :

  1. Sexual Assault

  2. Violence

  3. Preferred Gender Pronouns,

  4. LGBTQ+ Advocacy and Support

  5. Available Primary Care and Counseling Services at Spelman

  6. Crisis Centers in the Area.

 

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