Administration initiates campus sex assault conversation, hosts domestic violence prevention educator Don McPherson

Scott Murphy, News Editor

Members of Saint Anselm College’s administrative body have latched on to the national conversation regarding sexual assault by initiating conversation, education and awareness efforts among campus organizations.

At the center of this push is AVERT (Assault & Violence Education & Reporting Team), a cross constituency group co-chaired by Dean of Students Alicia Finn and Vice President of Human Resources & Administration Pat Shuster.

The group’s purpose is to assess national sexual assault educational materials and programs in order to determine what methods will work most effectively here at Saint Anselm to inform students about both preventing and reporting sexual assaults and what resources are available for victims.

“We are dedicated and immersed in this issue because we are passionate about ensuring that our students have the best experience possible while here,” Dean Finn shared.

Junior Karen Ejiofor, who is working with Sophomore Abigail Smith and the College’s administration to plan sexual assault awareness campaigns for next semester, expressed confidence in AVERT’s work.

“A lot of the things that they are working on is going to be very instrumental to students who do come forward and report,” Ejiofor shared. “There is a highly trained committee in place to handle reported cases.”

This training will also be provided to all major organizations on campus, something that Dean Finn described as a crucial to increase the availability of resources for sexual assault survivors.

“Students go to different people for help, so we need to ensure that everyone on campus is familiar with how to provide assistance in these cases,” Dean Finn elaborated.

A key first step in this process was the College’s hosting of sexual assault prevention advocate Don McPherson, who provided four presentations throughout the day on December 2nd.

President Steven DiSalvo revealed that he is close friends with McPherson, sharing that they met at a benefit dinner where McPherson was representing his foundation and President DiSalvo was representing the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation.

McPherson’s angle focuses upon addressing issues of masculinity within modern culture that contribute to misogyny, domestic/relationship violence and sexual assault.

McPherson opined in his discussion that “You can compare a man to an animal (“He’s a beast”) or an inanimate object (“He’s a machine”) and it is received as positive, but if you compare him to a woman or as feminine in any way, it is considered the worst insult possible.”

Additionally, McPherson recalled that at the aforementioned dinners that he attended with DiSalvo, the two were the only men present, which he used to call for recognition of sexual assault as not a “woman’s issue,” but “everyone’s issue.”

Director of Campus Safety & Security Don Davidson agreed with McPherson’s sentiments.

“If you’re a man that has a woman in your life that you care about, then this is an issue that should matter to you and be something that you are willing to make a stand for,” Davidson declared.

Part of this involves the empowerment of bystanders as well to know when to report a case and how to support their friends whom have become victims.

An aspect of this is the institution of a “Safe Harbor” policy, which exempts or diminishes students from punishment who have reported a case of sexual assault that includes underage drinking.

Dean Finn shared that this policy is standard practice at Saint Anselm, but will be spelled out explicitly in the next iteration of the College’s policy.

She explained that in cases like these, providing the victim with whatever help they need takes precedent over more minor offenses.

The College’s judicial process is something that Davidson describes as fair to all, with president DiSalvo explaining the zero tolerance policy that the College holds for guilty verdicts.

“It is important to adjudicate quickly and, if necessary, discipline harshly” President DiSalvo stated. “If you abuse another person, you forfeit the right to be a part of this community. It doesn’t matter if you have two years or two weeks left; there is no gray area here.”

Though the Campus Safety Report revealed that the number of reported sexual assaults increased from two in 2012 to four in 2013, these numbers indicate a decrease in the stigma behind reporting sexual assaults.

“Any time that you have an awareness program and shine a light on these issues, people feel more comfortable addressing them and more people come forward” Davidson explained.

President DiSalvo expanded upon this, highlighting the importance of the initial conversation and its continuation.

“We as a community have taken the lead to be proactive and educate ourselves about what constitutes sexual assault and how to properly prevent and address it,” President DiSalvo said. “This is just the beginning of a conversation that needs to take place on our campus and all campuses in order to end the cycle.”