National headlines continue the conversation

Lee Kolbe and several students weigh in on Title IX’s impact, presence and potential improvements

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Recent events regarding sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood are bringing these issues into the limelight – and Muhlenberg is no exception. Title IX, a law which prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded institutions and requires schools to deal with any reports of sexual violence. However, is Title IX really enough to make people feel safe from sexual assault?

The law creates a framework under which a school must determine if a report of assault or harassment qualify under Title IX. That isn’t to say, explained Lee Kolbe, Muhlenberg’s Title IX Coordinator, that students should not come forward with supposed cases for fear that theirs is not “severe” enough.

“We look into everything and sometimes there’s informal ways we can address something,” said Kolbe, adding that speaking with the student and possibly identifying and speaking with the perpetrator is something that she is willing to do.

If an incident is deemed “persistent or pervasive,” the case can be pushed for further investigation and possibly a trial, Kolbe explained.

“A one-off incident, if it’s not severe, would not rise to the level of harassment under Title IX,” Kolbe said. Although if the incident impacts where the student feels safe and comfortable, then there is the ability to launch an investigation and to possibly move forward with a trial — should the student wish to pursue that option.

In addition to reporting any incidents to Kolbe, students can
also contact the Counseling Center, one of the Chaplains or someone on the Sexual Assault Resource Team (SART). All of these, Kolbe said, are a good first step. The Counseling
Center, Chaplains and SART all provide confidentiality and, unlike other faculty and staff on
campus, do not need to report the incident to Kolbe.

Faculty members of SART include Cynthia Amaya-Santiago, Francesca Coppa, Lanethea Matthews-Schultz, Lindsay Porembo, Kimberly Stolarik and Jeremy Teissere. Kolbe explained that she is “looking to expand [SART’s] role” and give them further training to provide support for students, both victims and the accused.

The System is inherently broken

While there are resources for students who feel they have been sexually assaulted or harassed, some students do not necessarily feel that is enough. One female student who wished to remain anonymous expressed her belief that “the system is inherently broken.”

The fact that there’s people on campus who “don’t have the impulse control” to prevent sexual assault, she added, is “just not okay.”

Teaching consent, she added, is one way to reduce cases of sexual assault.

“People don’t understand that consent needs to be continuous rather than a one time thing,” she said, adding that this lesson should be included in the College’s prevention education.

A male student who also wished to remain anonymous expressed his concern for prevention education on campus as well.

“I don’t really remember anything about it,” he said. He explained that he’s “certainly been made aware of the issue through [his] years here” but never from the school itself, rather stories from friends. He added that he thinks Muhlenberg should continue prevention education beyond just the freshmen fitness and wellness classes.

“Some people may be annoyed to hear it again and again,” he said, “but I think it’s
needed.”

Anne Marie Stevens, the new Director of Prevention Education, explained that she is working to expand education beyond freshman year. Sexual Assault Awareness Month is observed every April, explained Stevens, and is meant to educate individuals and to promote awareness.

In the past, Muhlenberg has hosted events such as “Take Back the Night” in order to raise sexual assault awareness, as well as bringing keynote speakers such as Lacey Green and Beverly Gooden to campus last April. They also decorated the Light Lounge with posters from the Consent is Sexy campaign, which received severe backlash from students for trivializing the act of asking permission.

So what can students can do to help raise awareness about sexual assault and harassment?

“Be informed, attend prevention education programs, bring a friend or two, engage in dialogue, work to change the culture as well as policies on campuses, in your communities, locally and nationally and speak up when possible,” said Stevens. “There is much work to be done. We can start by believing and supporting survivors. It takes everyone.”

The female student mentioned earlier agreed. The prevention of non-consensual sex, she explained, “is on men as much as it is on women.”

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