Students, including sexual assault survivors, discussed solutions to cultural and administrative complaints at a public forum hosted by the Richmond College Student Government Association and the Roosevelt Institute Wednesday night.
The most prominent theme underlying many of the suggestions was the role of the coordinate college system, and if having separate spheres for men and women exacerbates issues related to sexual assault.
"If you report against a guy you have to go through their college," said Whitney Ralston, a junior who publically criticized Richmond's handling of her Title IX case. "You have to go to someone who is innately going to protect him."
To eliminate bias, Adam Gibson, an RCSGA senator for the class of 2017, said sexual assault investigations should be handled through the legal system "like most violent crimes are." Chelsea Davidson, president of the Jepson Student Government Association, argued that the process should stay within the university, but the deans' offices should separate academic and sexual assault proceedings.
Other students discussed the coordinate college system's effect on gender dynamics, specifically regarding rape culture.
"We structure this place in a binary way," said Natasha Shannon, WC '18, citing single-sex freshman dorms and separate student governments. "Culture and spaces are linked."
Class of 2017 Senators Max Thornton and Danny Heifetz each called for RCSGA and WCGA to merge into one student government.
"I don't think our two organizations are close enough," Thornton said. The two bodies usually meet in full four or five times a year, with smaller meetings occurring more frequently, said Ken Anderson, president of RCSGA.
Other members of RCSGA defended the separate schools and governments, asserting that men and women have different needs and that other colleges without coordinate systems still have cultural issues.
"You can't seriously suggest that merging the student governments would solve this issue," Daniel Yoo, chairman of the class of 2018, said after most of the audience had left the forum. RCSGA voted to table the remainder of the discussion for their next scheduled meeting on Wednesday.
As students—and two faculty members—debated solutions to rape culture, Jesse Pistokache, a Richmond basketball player, questioned whether or not rape culture even exists.
"On behalf of guys who don't really understand what's going on...we really don't think that there's a rape culture," Pistokache said. The sophomore told the audience he noticed the meeting, which was held on the Tyler Haynes commons pier, while ordering from Tyler's Grill, and decided to voice his opinion.
Pistokache said the commonly cited statistic that one in five women are sexually assaulted in college is false, but Anderson said the number of people effected does not change the weight of the issue.
"People still get abused, people still get hurt," Anderson said. "Empathy has to reign."
The university will release data about campus sexual assault spanning three years on Monday, Anderson said.
The most concrete policy suggestion made during the meeting came from a senior Westhampton College student who was sexually assaulted earlier in her Richmond career. The student, who asked not to be named, called for the university to adopt a policy regarding "incomplete" marks on sexual assault survivors' transcripts.
Because of the psychological toll accompanying her sexual assault, the student was unable to complete all of the classes she registered for. While some colleges allow survivors of sexual assault to appeal incomplete marks on their transcripts, Richmond does not have a policy for that, the student said.
"I don't want to have to explain why I have incompletes on my transcript," she said. When she tried to transfer out of Richmond, other colleges would not accept her because of those incomplete marks, she said.
Earlier in the forum, Ralston expressed a similar desire to not be defined by her assault. She said she received messages encouraging her to commit suicide after the Interfraternity Council canceled lodge activities for this weekend.
"Coming forward is hard because nobody wants to know you," Ralston said. "I'm not what happened to me."
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