Two professors hosted a forum Tuesday evening in Dennis Hall for students to discuss their desire to have more open conversations about sexual assault, gender dichotomies and social life on campus.
Political science professor Monti Datta and Spanish professor Carlos Valencia decided to host the forum after discussing the issue with Richmond College Associate Dean Patrick Benner because of the number of sexual assaults reported on campus, Datta said.
About 15 students, mostly women, attended the forum in the first-year, male residence hall where Datta lives.
Datta said he believed the lack of men present at the forum had to do in part with the subject matter, which could be uncomfortable or scary to talk about.
The conversation began with a focus on the culture of the lodges but shifted toward a discussion about rape and sexual assault on campus.
Some women at the forum said they thought there was a culture of blaming the victim on campus, which Datta said was the most shocking part of the discussion for him.
"It's heartbreaking that there is a common expectation about a woman crying wolf," he said.
Between 2 and 8 percent of reported sexual assaults are false, according to the National Center for the Prosecution of the Violence Against Women.
Students discussed the difficulty in understanding the gray area between consent and sexual assault.
"We need to find a way to make consent sexy," said Christine Parker, a student at the forum.
The students agreed that to help people understand the definition of sexual assault, it was necessary that men and women have conversations on the topic together, even if the university mandated those discussions.
"This is an issue that everyone is involved in and everyone is affected by," Parker said. "There aren't just female survivors [of assault]; there are male survivors too."
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Many students said they felt there was a gender imbalance on campus because the social life often revolved around fraternity parties.
Valencia said it seemed unfair that fraternities could host open, social functions with alcohol in their lodges, but sororities could not do the same in the cottages.
Parker said she wished there was a space similar to the lodges that was not affiliated with any organization.
Students agreed the gender imbalance was further enhanced under the separate legislations of Richmond and Westhampton colleges, which included the different statutes for the lodges and the cottages.
"We live in this magic, bubble oasis," Datta said. "We can't walk off campus and have night life available, which accentuates the lodge culture. The lodges are not as safe as they need to be."
Although students at the forum said they believed the lodge culture should be discussed to improve the well-being of all students, many said they thought the fraternity members were well-trained in risk management and worked to ensure the safety of their guests.
All sorority members will go through Title IX training this semester, and all fraternity members next semester.
Students also talked about ways to continue the conversation in safe spaces.
Parker is the founder of the SAVE project at the University of Richmond, which aims to educate the community on sexual assault and sexual violence. Next year she hopes the organization will be able to have weekly meetings so survivors and supporters can share their stories.
Contact reporter Avery Shackelford at firstname.lastname@example.org
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