I want to begin by expressing the immense gratitude I have to the people who made it possible for Jackson Katz to visit Knox College and who made the event such a success. This gratitude includes Professor Magali Roy-Fequiere, chair of the Gender & Women’s Studies Department, who has been asking the administration to bring Jackson Katz to campus for more than eight years (long before his Ted Talk went viral) and Tianna Cervantez, director of the Center for Intercultural Life, who for the entirety of her time here, despite it being nowhere in her job description, has worked tirelessly on sexual assault awareness, response, and prevention, supported victims and survivors and also asked the administration to sponsor speakers like Katz. I am indebted to Professor Kelly Shaw, who has tenaciously researched and valiantly pushed administrators to reform Knox’s disgraceful sexual assault policies and resources and has overseen the efforts of the Sexual Assault Resource Reform Coalition. My thanks extends to these students: Gabrielle Rajerison, Hadley Gephart, Kayla Kennedy and Devin Hanley, in addition to the students involved in the new Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, and the students who volunteered to generate an unprecedented audience for Dr. Katz. I am grateful to Deb Southern, Dean of Students, who sponsored the speaker through the dean’s discretionary funds and has supported student initiatives on these issues. My thanks to the Title IX Team, especially Kim Schrader, who worked side by side with students doing the grunt work of publicity — from stuffing napkin holders to pinning together info sheets with #daretocare pins — and Laura Schnack, who haggled with Dr. Katz’ agent to ensure Knox made the most of Dr. Katz’ visit.
Before I proceed, I want to clarify that I write this speaking only for myself, not for any of the aforementioned individuals. None of these individuals asked me to mention them; I freely chose to acknowledge them.
While Dr. Katz had much to offer people who had not before been exposed to feminism, bystander intervention and systems that perpetuate gendered violence, I want to hone in on one of his points that should be the primary concern for Knox as an institution. In his lecture, Dr. Katz said that the survivor and rapists of the Steubenville, Ohio case were failed by the adults of Steubenville. This is not to say that the individuals who committed the violence should not be held accountable, but it is to say that because those individuals had access to bystander intervention education, sexual assault awareness programming, or any semblance of education regarding consent, sexual violence was inevitable. In his explanation of bystander intervention, Dr. Katz drew a pyramid and shaded the very top point of the triangle. The point, he explained, was an assault and all the space below that small point were the systems supporting rape culture, including a lack of educational programming and resources for students concerning consent and sexual assault awareness.
Let’s look at Knox College with this diagram in mind. There are two instances where formal education takes place on campus: New Student Orientation and Flunk Day preparation. Both of these instances are limited, inconveniently timed and problematic — and only for first-year students. While Orientation Week has undergone much reform after students made complaints about the lack of sensitivity and priority of sexual assault prevention education, there is still much revision to be done. Sex Signals, a semi-comedic take on bystander intervention at parties, can be confusing, triggering and alienating. The Consent and Communication Workshops are often only as good as their facilitators, who receive minimal training on how to run such a workshop, and until last year, these workshops were not built into the Orientation Week schedule. The extremely limited and poorly executed pre-Flunk Day education occurs in first-year residencies, led by untrained Union Board members whose primary agenda is to ensure first years steer clear of the mud pit. It should be noted that these sessions are not only about sexual assault but address it by informing first-years that they should intervene if they think someone who is inebriated is in danger. However, no methods of intervention are given to first-years. Also, attendance at all of these events, while highly encouraged, is not enforced.
The above should be a red flag to every student, faculty member and administrator here. We are desperately lacking in educational resources.
But is this changing? Beginning spring term, Allies for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) will be active on campus, sponsoring events, workshops and campaigns that the new group will brainstorm. Students Against Sexism in Society (SASS) is bringing two additional speakers on sexual assault awareness and campus activism in April, including Knox Alum Rachael Goodman-Williams (Class of 2009) and Wagatwe Wanjuki from the Know Your IX Network. The obvious connection between ASAP and SASS is that these are student-initiated, student-funded projects. These projects are filling a small portion of the overwhelming gap. While students should always be in a position to voice their concerns, offer input and initiate such projects if we so desire, we should not be responsible for the bulk of safety programming. The only way to make sexual assault awareness, education, prevention and response efforts sustainable is to ensure institutional support. Support does not include when the administration smiles and commends the few students who take on these projects, often at the cost of their academic experience here. Rather, this administration must prioritize student well-being above all, fund and initiate college-sponsored campaigns and events, create clear and accessible policies, revitalize the health and counseling services available to students and hire an expert in the field of gender violence prevention and support whose sole job is to create educational outreach programs and provide genuine support to survivors (similar to the Sustainability Coordinator model), to name just a few ways the administration could demonstrate its support.
From the numerous TKS reports and few emails to campus from President Amott, it should be clear by now that Knox is making Title IX a priority. Essentially, Knox, as an institution, understands it should follow federal law. But simply touting that we are now working to be in compliance with Title IX is, frankly, unimpressive.
While I am grateful and excited for the changes that are occurring and the progress that has been made, I would caution against sheer optimism. What we have now is not enough for a school that costs nearly $50,000 a year (on par with universities like Northwestern) and for a school that claims it prides itself on social justice principles. Students need to stay alert to these changes being made and the progress being promised and challenge our community to be one that is safe for all students, especially survivors of sexual violence.
We also must remember that the changes happening now are the results of years of student activism; do not for a second think that bringing Dr. Katz was either the catalyst or the culmination of sexual assault activism on this campus. We cannot be ahistorical as we move forward. We need to hold the college accountable for the ways in which it has failed survivors of sexual violence and continue to demand the support and resources for all students.