By Meg Schmitt
President Raynard Kington unveiled a Task Force on Safety, Responsibility and Prevention this week, a new temporary committee that will discuss education and policy solutions for sexual misconduct on campus and the alcohol abuse often tied to it.
The debate over how to confront the growing evidence and reporting of sexual assault and alcohol-related sexual misconduct reached a tipping point last spring. The College experienced high numbers of alcohol hospitalizations and a spike in reported cases of sexual misconduct, both of which sparked heated discourse on campus.
The Task Force is one of the more concrete results of this continuing campus dialogue. It is working on prevention of sexual misconduct, following the campus visit of the consultants who are advising the College on its response to incidents. In the coming weeks, the consultant group will be returning to the College to present their suggestions.
Kington said part of the motivation behind this task force is rooted in his commitment to finding solutions to these problems before the College encounters a crisis. For example, Amherst College has drawn significant criticism for its handling of a sexual assault case this month.
“[The task force] is not very crisis-oriented. …We’ve had challenges, but I think we’re doing this from a position of strength rather than as a result of something,” Kington said.
In fact, Kington and Angela Voos, Vice President for Strategic Planning and chair of the task force, say feedback from the community is a primary impetus. “The issues of sexual assault and excessive drinking are by far the two topics that I receive the most concerned emails from parents and students,” Kington said. “I get regular emails from parents and students saying, ‘We have a problem.’”
The task force will be a temporary body, meeting intensively for most of this year, made up of a mixture of faculty, staff and students—SGA President Colleen Osborne ‘13 and Vice President for Student Affairs Sivan Philo ‘13—with a significant emphasis on prevention. “The goal of this committee is… to help come up with a plan about how we can implement prevention programs that will help us reduce the likelihood that we have incidents related to sexual assault, that we have less incidence of alcohol abuse, [which is] tied to violence broadly,” Kington said.
Kington said he is hopeful that the task force will improve Grinnell’s recent track record on sexual misconduct, and he is encouraging a wide array of tactical approaches. He said he expects the task force will be well supported by students as a solution-seeking presence on campus. Its purpose, he stressed, is not to function as a punitive committee but to bolster and maintain discussion of the problem by proposing and testing solutions and raising awareness within the student body.
“Our job is to educate in all sorts of ways, and this is part of education as well… to help educate them about how they live their lives and how they can be meaningful and important and good citizens in the future. This is part of our responsibility,” he said. The programs that Kington expects the task force to create will incorporate the character of the College in their solutions, by emphasizing a community-wide effort and embracing the core principle of self-governance in the Grinnell community.
“One type of intervention that I’m very interested in is socalled bystander intervention, which I actually think fits very much with the self-governance theme of Grinnell,” Kington said. “If we can get peers to one, be sensitive to when things are going in the wrong direction and two, give them skills to intervene in some way, and language and education that would help them help their peers prevent bad things from happening.”
“It’s a community effort…all of us need to be mindful of what is it that’s making things more likely versus less likely,” Voos said.
In addition to the task force itself, a wide range of perspectives will be sought. “We’re calling for a larger working group of people who are just interested, organizations and individuals—so that the task force is working on prevention and programs, but we have a larger group who’s also informing and helping us educate and helping these prevention programs,” Voos said.
Communications are forthcoming for students wishing to get involved in prevention efforts.