At Ithaca College and across the country, sexual assault is a constant topic of conversation. National attention is directed at college campuses and how they respond to sexual assault and sexual violence. It is important that this conversation remains at the forefront for many reasons. Sexual assaults tend to be extraordinarily under-reported through official channels on all college campuses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, approximately one in five women and one in 16 men will experience sexual violence while at college. We need to create a culture of respect and safety on our campus so that all students feel comfortable reporting to college officials when they experience or witness sexual violence. More importantly, we need to create a community where sexual violence is not tolerated and where we work together to prevent it. As President Tom Rochon noted in his letter to the campus community earlier this semester, even one sexual assault on our campus is too many.
Ithaca College has always had many resources to support our students, particularly those who experience sexual violence. Mental and physical health services are available through the Office of Counseling and Wellness and the Hammond Health Center. We have a strong community partnership with the Advocacy Center, which provides invaluable support to all members of our community. Students who experience sexual violence or sexual harassment have options through our student judicial system and potentially the criminal justice system. However, those options and resources are not helpful if students do not know how to access them or that they even exist. That was the impetus for creating the SHARE website, www.ithaca.edu/share.
SHARE stands for Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education. The goal of the website is to pull resources together in one spot so students know where to start if they or someone they know experiences sexual violence. Additionally, the SHARE site has educational resources about consent and sexual assault prevention. In the coming weeks and months, students will start seeing more information about the SHARE site throughout campus. Responding to sexual assault, violence and harassment is not just about how we support our students after they experience it. Response includes understanding what constitutes sexual violence, knowing what consent is and knowing how each of us has the ability and obligation to step in when we see something that puts one of our community members at risk.
Ithaca College is also in a unique position because it shares a community with another college. Our students regularly interact with Cornell University students, and sometimes those interactions have negative outcomes. This puts students at both schools in new and scary territory. While students may know they can turn to their home campus for resources and support, they will probably have many questions about their ability to pursue something judicially or criminally. Administrators and students from both campuses are working together to provide more clarity and answers. Executive officers from the college’s Student Government Association joined Cornell’s Student Assembly to start a dialogue between our student bodies about safety and awareness. On Nov. 18, Cornell and Ithaca College’s Title IX coordinators and student conduct administrators will be meeting to continue this conversation to find ways we can work together to support our students and keep each other safe.
Sexual assault is a community issue that no one individual, organization or office can combat alone. I hope all members of the Ithaca College community join in the conversation, and we each do our part to make the college a safe campus, one that is free from sexual violence.
Tiffani Ziemann is an area coordinator with the Office of Residential Life and the Title IX Coordinator. Email her at [email protected]