Written by Paige Farnworth | Media by Thomas Hajny
At the beginning of the semester, Greenville College students gathered with their residence halls for informational All Hall Meetings. It was near the end of these meetings that CREs of the halls showed a sexual harassment and assault video to raise awareness about these issues. While the purpose of this video and discussion was to comfort the students in reporting these attacks, some students in attendance turned the topic into a joke.
As one of the students in attendance, I was happy and thankful that our leaders on campus were addressing such serious and important issues. I appreciated knowing that in such a horrible circumstance such as rape, the victim would be supported by many Greenville students and staff.
At the meeting I attended, we were told something along the lines of: “If you were at a party drinking alcohol and you were assaulted, you should not be afraid to tell one of us about it because you will not get in any trouble”. Although this statement was intended to show support, I witnessed puzzled looks, furrowed brows, and heard a murmur of whispers from my fellow students.
I personally counted at least five instances when the phrase “If I am caught drinking, I will just say I was raped” was said. Chuckles clung to the air as students all around me ran through scenarios of using rape and sexual harassment as get-out-of-trouble-free-cards. Even though I assumed none of the students would truly go through with such a thing if the time came, I was still bothered by the joke. When talking with some of my guy friends about my frustrations the next day, they told me that it was the running joke of their building.
Why would we make light of such a horrible thing? I realized in my exploration of this question that a few of the students weren’t necessarily joking; some students were honestly just confused about the logistics of reporting such a crime.
Can I be caught at a party chugging the contents of my red solo cup and then make a claim that I was raped? Will that claim then clear me of all punishment? Do I have to bring my harassment story to the staff before I face any punishment for them to investigate my story? If rumors of me sipping on a bottle of Jack were to reach staff ears, would they not believe any sexual harassment I report after the fact?
To clarify this confusion I sat down with the Associate Dean for Residence Life at Greenville College, Tim Caldwell.
First he explained Greenville’s grace-based judicial system for an infraction. Greenville does not have a matrix for if a student does “X” this many times, “Y” is always the punishment. Each situation is handled on an individual basis. He pointed out that typically he would handle a situation differently if someone were to come in on their own and admit what they did wrong. “In that scenario I can see that growth and learning is already happening and the student is ready for change” he said. Severe punishment does not happen in that situation, but students are given a PGI, or a Personal Growth Initiative. The students would be assigned a mentor and would write and talk about the issue so some more learning takes place.
When it comes to the issues of sexual harassment, assault, and rape, Caldwell is not at all focused on a PGI.
Tim expands: “If someone comes to me and says ‘Hey, I was at this party drinking and I was molested or sexually assaulted’ I am not going to be focused on the Personal Growth Initiative at that point because there is other stuff going on that is a lot more important to me than that. This is not the time to say ‘well you were drinking so let’s talk about the consequences about that.’ That is crazy. I would not be that guy.”
So what would he say to the jokers who considered using this as a way to get out of trouble? Caldwell would not let the infraction go uninvestigated, but he would definitely listen to and investigate any claim of harassment.
“If a student is caught and I approach them and in the middle of that discussion they tell me ‘by the way I was raped’, I still have to take that claim seriously, and I will. But in that situation there is a different posturing taking place, and I am very aware of that. We would look at it in a different way of course and maybe say, ‘I notice that you are only bringing this up now, let’s talk about that some more’, but obviously we would still take the claim seriously.”
More than anything else, Caldwell wants the students on this campus to know that they are supported.
“I want to emphasize that we take all situations of rape and sexual assault seriously and we investigate each and every one of them individually. I hope that students trust that I am not just about the law. I hope if someone is hurt in that way they feel the total confidence to come in and talk to me. If they do not like me, I hope they go to Emily Humphreys or any of our CREs. Our first response is going to be: ‘How are you doing? Are you okay? What do you need from us right now? We are worried about the individual, not the law.”
As the student body at Greenville College, I believe that we should be thankful to have a support system in place for such tragedy. We should not joke about sexual assault or become the campus that cried “rape”. Let’s stand with GC staff in their fight against these crimes and their support of the victims. Let’s care for the individual.