Last Tuesday the College administration, in conjunction with Grinnell’s Student Government Association (SGA), held two town hall meetings to provide students and administrators with a chance to communicate on a number of serious campus issues such as diversity, campus alcohol culture and the prevalence of sexual assault at Grinnell.
Following the town hall sessions, the campus received an email summarizing the proceedings and informing them of follow-up sessions on Nov. 13. The email closed with a call to the student body at large to “take the next step” by continuing a discourse with the event’s presenters, by joining one of the campus committees responsible for developing institutional solutions to these issues and by volunteering in roles that promote positive change on campus.
The S&B believes wholeheartedly that all of these actions are essential in changing the campus culture surrounding these topics. We acknowledge that these solutions are, to a large extent, going to have to originate at an administrative level and we applaud the College’s efforts to give the student body an active voice in both crafting and implementing these solutions. The town hall format is a great opportunity for the entire campus to participate in the conversation, but, when it comes to actually taking action, it’s much more difficult to continue to engage the student body on such a broad scale. We propose to discuss, then, how Grinnellians who have a genuine interest and investment in solving these issues can take action: in a phrase, how we as Grinnellians can self-govern.
Self-governance does not just mean holding yourself accountable, but also holding those around you accountable. If you see a peer drinking to a dangerous level, say something. If you see a peer behaving inappropriately, stop them. Don’t look away, act. It is our responsibility as a campus community to not only take care of ourselves, but also look out for each other. It is also important to remember that self-governance is a two-way street: we must be willing to both give and receive help to live in a successfully self-governing community.
In light of the responsibility of self-governance that each student bears as a member of this community, we ask that, in addition to allowing the student body a place in the conversation surrounding institutional solutions, the College administration support students in building the knowledge and skills necessary to self-govern in a responsible way. Throughout the conversations last Tuesday, it became exceedingly clear that sexual misconduct is a concept that the campus community needs to continue to discuss and analyze. In particular surrounding the issue of sexual consent when the participating parties have consumed alcohol, last Tuesday’s sessions were a powerful indication of the uncertainty students feel when attempting to navigate what is a very complex issue with no hard-and-fast rules: understanding when consent can be granted and when, due to the intoxication of one or more of those involved, it cannot. When students are expressing this kind of discomfort and uncertainty, it should be a clear indication that more conversation and education needs to occur—whether through town halls, open workshops, institutionally administered training sessions or any other means that will be effective. The S&B is very hopeful that these educational measures will continue to be a priority.
While this was less specifically addressed in the town hall meetings, a similar point may be raised regarding the role of the active bystander—one that we argue is central to Grinnell’s self-governing philosophy. The S&B believes that the active bystander can play an instrumental role in addressing these issues—certainly alcohol consumption, but we argue sexual misconduct, as well—and we believe that the administration shares this opinion. The College already does a great job of educating student-athletes, some campus groups and, importantly, student staff. However, we contend that all Grinnellians can be and should be expected to be active bystanders and we think that opportunities to receive the knowledge necessary to confidently approach this duty should be widely promoted and accessible. Once again, we advocate an aggressive and continued policy of education.
Over the past several years, Grinnell has made alcohol education a priority. Last Tuesday, Wellness Director Jen Jacobsen shared that, while only 44.3 percent of Grinnell students indicated that they had received information from the College regarding alcohol and drugs in 2007, that figure had risen to 93.8 percent by 2012. These figures, coupled with the decrease so far this year in alcohol-related hospitalizations, are positive signs in light of the College’s broader effort to prevent alcohol abuse. Now we ask the College to expand this policy to the topic of sexual misconduct. While we understand that solutions are going to need to occur on an institutional level, the S&B firmly believes that self-governance can and needs to play a key role in addressing sexual misconduct on campus. For this to become a reality, however, we need to promote a better understanding of this topic—and particularly sexual consent—among the student body and we need to educate ourselves on strategies for being an active bystander regarding this issue. It is our hope that we as students, in addition to getting involved through the more formal mechanisms that Jim Reische, Vice President of Communications mentioned in his email, will all have access to the resources necessary to be educated, self-governing members of this campus.