A change to the culture of misconduct: starting points for us all

LAUREL KENNEDY

Vice President of Student Development

Sexual misconduct can have profound and damaging effects that can last for years. Those have greatest impact on the person who was violated, but also affect that person’s friends and family. The accusation of misconduct can change the course of the accused student’s life as well. And while we can conduct investigations and respond with care to the available facts, we can never re-wind history and un-do the damage of an assault.

In surveys conducted with Denison students in 2015 and 2016, we learned that about 13% of our students—that’s about 280 students, mostly women—had experienced some form of sexual misconduct in the prior year.  Most of those had experienced unwanted touching, but about 5% of women—about 60 Denison women—had experienced nonconsensual intercourse. While that’s not worse than other campuses, it is a horrific number.

When we say that we have to end sexual misconduct on this campus, the idea is radical, but not impossible. We can do this, and we should. If we’re going to, we have to start right now.

Why? Because 41% of the women who said they’d experienced sexual misconduct said it happened during their first three months of college. So, unlike many resolutions that we can put off until next month or next semester, this commitment really can’t wait.

What can we do? In prevention, we talk about concentric circles of action: the individual, groups of friends and peers, the campus and surrounding community, and the culture at large. 

So start with minding yourself. Know what consent is—yes, read the campus policy—and if you aren’t confident that everything is copasetic with your partner, ask. No one is miffed by being asked, “Is this good?”  In fact, people like it—it’s a mark of sexual respect. And be radically honest with yourself:  a “yes” that is drunk-mumbled, slurred, or sleepy is not truly a yes. Ditto sex that requires coaxing, cajoling, or convincing.

Second, mind your friends and peers. In every reported assault case that I’ve seen, there were multiple points in the evening when others could have stepped in to prevent that looming result.

Are you not sure you should? Dear Denison, quit being so polite. What’s in your way? If it’s about minding your own business, not wanting to be un-fun, or worrying that your friend will get mad at you, think about what’s at stake. The consequences are real, and really bad.

Still can’t do it? Ask a friend for help. Ask someone else to survey the situation and see if she or he shares your concern. Two people are bolder than one.

There are situations where students have be the ones to act with the courage of their convictions.  At the campus level though, faculty and staff will contribute to prevention efforts too, providing more bystander intervention training, fostering exploration into Denison’s gender culture, and sharing more information about healthy relationships.

And changing the culture? We hope we are changing it, every day. This is, at heart, why most of the faculty and staff of the college are here, and probably why you are too: we see Denison as a place where change-makers are cultivated. Denison students will make the world different and better—it’s who you are. The campus is a space for rehearsing those different ways of being, thinking, and doing, changing the culture along the way. Campus bedrooms would be a fine place to start.

Dr. Laurel Kennedy is Denison’s Vice President for Student Developmoent

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