BY: Monica Baranko with support from Jacob Morgan and Marvin Mercado
As disturbing as it is, sexual harassment and misconduct happens somewhere to someone everyday. It even can (and does) happen on our campus.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and this year’s theme is “Embrace Your Voice!” Talking about this subject is crucial to jumpstart change. No one should feel as if they’re silenced.
I set out to answer the simple question of, “What should you do if you’re being sexually harassed or have been assaulted?”
On Shenandoah’s website you can find what is considered sexual harassment:
Shenandoah University defines “sexual harassment” as making unwelcomed sexual advances, requesting sexual favors or engaging in other verbal and physical conduct of a sexual nature when at least one of the following conditions is met:
And what is considered sexual misconduct:
Shenandoah University defines “sexual misconduct” as engaging in any sexual behavior without consent, including sexual conduct that occurs after consent has been withdrawn. Sexual misconduct that causes physical or emotional discomfort to any person involved is prohibited.
To constitute sexual misconduct, the sexual behavior must meet any one of the following criteria:
It is difficult to know what one should do when faced with something like sexual harassment or misconduct. It is difficult to process what exactly is happening. It is even more difficult to feel like you have to face it alone.
I had the chance to sit down with Shenandoah’s own Rhonda Colby, Vice President of Student Life; Sue O’Driscoll, Dean of Students; and Sarah Celec, Safety and Health Programs Coordinator to discuss sexual misconduct and harassment on campus. Among many other things, all three of these women work to raise awareness and prevent sexual harassment on our campus.
What should a student do if they are being sexually harassed?
“Tell somebody. Just tell somebody,” Colby said. “The reason I’m gonna say tell somebody is that if we’ve done our job well over the course of the last few years, there are a whole lot of somebodies on this campus that would know exactly how to initially care for the person and get them to the right place.”
You don’t have to report it directly to the Title IX coordinator. You can tell anyone from a professor to your coach. You can even tell an RA.
“The RA’s gonna inform their staff member which is gonnaget connected to our Title IX coordinator,” O’Driscoll said. Along with resourcces and support, O’Driscoll said one can also learn about, “rights that they have with either further reporting it with law enforcement and then also with options with the campus process.”
Shenandoah has several different confidential resources including, but not limited to, the Counseling Center, Wilkins Wellness Center, the Peer Mentor Center, and Sarah Celec herself. These resources will provide you with more of a “trauma informed care” and are not mandatory reporters. If you confide in them, it is your choice what the next step is with your situation.
Celec said their mission is to “put the power firmly back in that person’s hands who feels as though they may not have any power or the power to make choices any longer.”
“I kinda like the one-two punch part of that,” Colby added. “A place for folks to get their heads wrapped around it, but also a university commitment to not be secret-keepers. Confidentiality keepers…yes.”
If you feel uncomfortable talking about it with someone in person, you can submit your report online at Shenandoah’s website. To do so, you can just type in “sexual misconduct” or “sex” on the su.edu search bar to find the form, or click on the following link:
What is the school’s policy on how to handle these situations?
Once your situation is reported, the appropriate staff member will evaluate the report. Through that, the reporter will decide if they want the university to handle it or if they want to reach out to law enforcement with the university’s assistance.
“We try to let the reporter stay in the driver’s seat as much as she or he or they can,” Colby said.
For student-student reports, the process will follow the responding person under the Dean of Student office.
In a situation like the one mentioned in the beginning of this article, mainly the deputy Title IX official in Human Resources, Chris Grant, will handle the report. It is immediately dealt with on the employment side of the university unlike a student-student report.
The handling of these situations is similar. The responding person is brought in. The reporter will tell their whole story. Then there is a process to decide whether the responding person is responsible or not responsible.
Unlike law enforcement, there the education system has a standard of preponderance of the evidence.
“That means 50/50 plus a hair,” Colby said. “If it is more likely than not that it happened, you are found responsible.”
In regards to an employee, there is a range of consequences. One of the things the university will do is look to see if this is patterned behavior. If it is, they will see what actions were taken last time, and build their ultimate decision off of that. Termination is a definite possibility.
If it were determined to be a low-level offense, educational interventions would be a main repercussion.
“It’s not a one and done situation or a one size fits all situation,” Colby said. “I’m tickled that the Title IX Coordinator who deals with student cases is in close communication with HR and they work closely together tofigure out ‘let’s be consistent.’
What is the university doing to prevent sexual harassment and misconduct on campus?
“We’re doing a lot of education,” Celec said. Shenandoah does programs, the most recent being Sex-Ed Olympics, to raise awareness and teach students and faculty on what to do if these things happen.
Before incoming students even step foot on campus, they are required to take an online course that has a section called Consent and Respect.
“Students are learning about the terms and what constitutes sexual misconduct and these behaviors,” said O’Driscoll.
If there is any doubt – ask.
At orientation, students and parents are advised to have important conversations regarding these matters.
During Welcome Week, every new student is required to sit in on the theatrical-style 411 Session that focuses on sexual misconduct.
“We talk about what to do, what is the process on campus, or if you feel as though you need to be a reporting party,” said Celec.
Shenandoah also has Step-Up training that different student groups and residence halls will take. This training helpsstudents with what to do when you see something you think is wrong or should not happen and how to help.
Have you had many cases of sexual misconduct on campus?
“Yes,” said Colby. “Even one case is too many.”
On Shenandoah’s campus for this academic year, the following has been reported:
Non-Physical Student and Student Case: 8
Physical Contact Case: 3
Non-Consensual Penetration Case: 3
The unfortunate thing is, the situation from the beginning of this article isn’t hypothetical. That happened on this campus.
If something has happened to you, know you are not alone. There are people everywhere who are willing and able to help.
Listed below are some of the resources here on campus available to reach out to.
(Not Just) Women’s Center
Cooley Hall Room 201: 540-665-3463
Wilkins Wellness Center
Cooley Hall Room 303
Safety & Health Programs Coordinator
Cooley Hall Room 206: 540-665-7339
Rev. Justin Allen, confidential resource
Rev. DeLyn Celec, confidential resource
Goodson Chapel & Recital Hall, Room 17
The Laurel Center, Winchester
Those are only a handful of the resources available. You may also tell any other personnel on campus, and they will be ready to guide you to the correct campus authority. Shenandoah and its staff only want the best for everyone on campus and in the community.
“Students have a right to be able to study in an environment that is free from tension around gender and sex,” said Colby. “Our goal is excellent care for students…a culture of compassion.”