ASCMC Sponsors Sexual Assault Series

The Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College (ASCMC) recently spent $1,500 to co-sponsor a series of speakers who will address the issue of sexual violence. In coordination with the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum and the CMC Athletic Department, ASCMC invited Gloria Allred and Jackson Katz to speak in September.

Events such as the Allred and Katz talks “challenge everyone, and particularly the men of CMC, to critically evaluate the normative universe that can lead to sexual assault,” ASCMC President Gavin  Landgraf CM ’14 said.

As a civil rights lawyer, Allred has represented numerous women alleging sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. Athenaeum Director Bonnie Snortum said that Allred is currently one of the most controversial lawyers in the United States because she has accepted many sexual harassment cases against high-profile defendants, including Hollywood director Roman Polanski and Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd. 

Katz, a documentarian and educator, founded Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP), an organization that teaches athletes on college campuses how to oppose sexual assault vocally. He also worked on the U.S. Secretary of Defense’s Task Force on Domestic Violence in the military from 2000 to 2003, before returning to the education field. 

Both speakers drew crowds of over 300 students and faculty.

Landgraf and several CMC resident advisers proposed the idea to Snortum last spring. After the plan was approved for funding, the group reconvened this fall to select speakers.

“ASCMC has helped fund Athenaeum speakers in the past, but this is the first time that I am aware of that ASCMC has taken the lead on creating an Athanaeum speaker series,” Landgraf said. 

Although Social Activities Chair Mark Blumenfeld CM ’14 originally opposed allocating ASCMC funds to co-sponsor the series, he said he changed his mind after seeing Katz’s talk. 

“I think governments are most effective when they are smaller; I have personally tried to focus my efforts towards the basic requirements of my position and to follow through with them as best as I can,” he wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “However, I think the ‘Ath’ speaker series showed me that student government can provide meaningful discussions when they step outside their prescribed ASCMC roles.”

Ben Turner CM ’16, who attended Katz’s Sept. 30 presentation, agreed that it was a good use of funding. 

“I’ve had friends, and I’ve been in situations, where I’ve been witness to sexual assault, to sexual violence [at CMC],” he said.

Turner also spoke positively of Katz’s “bystander approach to sexual abuse and violence prevention,” which proposes “a communal attempt to take apart sexual assault and violence.”

“Sexual violence and abuse should be treated not as one person committing an act against another person, not as a perpetrator and a victim, but rather as people in a community interacting in a negative way, and that should be looked out for by team members, by friends,” Katz said.   

Turner also said, however, that he went to the presentation already holding many of the beliefs that Katz articulated in his presentation, and that others who attended might not have been in Katz’s intended target group: males who are uneducated on the issues of sexual violence.

“There were a lot of women there, not a lot of men,” he said. “Many of the people who I saw at the Athenaeum, many of whom were asking questions [to Katz], were, to my understanding, tolerant, understanding, open-minded people, who in my opinion don’t stand to gain as much from the talk.”

To reach more of his target male demographic, Katz held private workshops with athletic teams the day before his talk, according to Ben Tillotson CM ’15, Athenaeum Fellow and ASCMC Dorm Affairs Chair. The sessions were in line with Katz’s MVP training program.

Blumenfeld commented on the CMC administration’s current efforts to recognize and combat sexual violence. 

“The school, in my opinion, seems to believe that by virtue of putting up fences at parties and barring direct access to peoples’ rooms somehow reduces or absolves the school from the liability of sexual misconduct,” he wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “I think fences can do a lot of good under a variety of circumstances, but I do not buy that their presence in barring off rooms in any way helps to curb sexual misconduct from taking place.”

Blumenfeld, who has a significant role in planning and moderating parties as Social Activities Chair, said that students should be informed about the potential risks of different environments.

According to Landgraf, there was an anonymous health survey at CMC which indicated that the college’s rate of sexual assault was consistent with those of the other 5Cs, and standard compared to the national average.

“Being ‘average’ on sexual assault is particularly inadequate both because the norm on college campuses today is really quite bad and because the issue is of such gravity that even one case is too many,” Landgraf said.

Celia Flinn CM ’16, a history major completing a gender and women’s studies sequence, said that based on her experience at CMC she thinks that the survey results may be too optimistic. 

“I don’t know if CMC creates a super welcoming environment to report sexual assaults,” she said. “It’s all part of the hook-up culture and everything, but I don’t think it’s popular to report sexual assault. Like if you’re not sure, you’re not going to report it.”

She suggested an aggressive approach to preventing sexual assault that would promote a zero tolerance policy and student activism on campus.

“There’s nothing specifically [like] CMC saying, ‘This is not OK. We don’t tolerate this,'” Flinn said. “I think it would be very strong for CMC to have maybe a student-run group or a Dean of Students organize a committee through our student government to be actively in the student body, educating about sexual assault and preventing it through conversations.”

Snortum said that the Athenaeum plans to continue inviting speakers who will discuss themes of sexuality. Kimberly Reed, a filmmaker who focuses on transsexuality, is slated to come this November.

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