Sexual Assault at Augustana College: Let's Chalk About It

TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

On Monday, January 29th, members of the Augustana community had the opportunity to attend a moderated Panel Discussion on Title IX.

 

This panel, from the email sent out to students, staff, and faculty, insisted that “discussion, along with education, is essential to the necessary progress on the issues of sexual assault. On our campus, and everywhere, we must find ways to talk openly and honestly about the issues, the concerns and the facts.”

 

Unfortunately, an overwhelming number of students in attendance of this moderated panel discussion were left unsatisfied and disappointed. The panel was held by the Student Government Association (SGA). Chief Title IX coordinator Laura Ford, deputy Title IX coordinator of student matters Chris Beyer and Rock Island Police department commander of criminal investigations Tim McCloud were present.

 

For many of those in attendance, myself included, there was an obvious disconnect between members of the student body and the panelists on stage. Countless brave survivors stood up to share their personal stories, some of them demanding answers to questions as straightforward as “Why is my rapist still on this campus?” This panel was intended to facilitate honest, constructive conversation about the topic of sexual assault. There were certainly questions that were clearly answered, but more often than not students were left baffled, disgusted, and angry with the panelists on stage.

 

A concern that has been echoed by students is the lack of effort by Title IX administrators in effectively assisting survivors of sexual assault on Augustana’s campus. Many survivors present at the panel expressed that they failed to receive closure and proper support by the administration. For many students like myself, it is obvious that the student body is pulling more weight when it comes to raising awareness about sexual violence in any form at Augustana College. The term "sexual violence" is all-encompassing and refers to crimes like sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse.

 

Now, more than I have ever personally witnessed on this campus, students are speaking up about the need for action, as opposed to just having conversations about the topic of sexual assault. Actions speak louder than words, especially when it comes to creating positive changes that aim to eradicate the normalization of rape culture.

 

Later that Monday night, Her Campus was reached out to anonymously.

 

The email members of the organization received, myself included, read as follows:

 

“I know each of you writes for HerCampus at Augustana which I think is an incredible organization. I just wanted to let you know that I noticed someone started a chalk protest down in the quad, and figured you guys would be the most capable of getting the word out about it. There is a whole bunch of chalk down there for people to use for this. A lot of it seems to be directed towards the way the administration has handled various events on campus. If you know anyone who would want to contribute I think this is a great opportunity to stimulate a conversation on campus.”

 

Upon receiving this email, I further corresponded with the anonymous person(s) behind the account, eventually sending them a set of questions to answer. The anonymity of the person(s) who composed this message is obviously intriguing, but it is also representative of the great strides members of the Augustana community will take in order to actively speak out against the mishandling of sexual assault cases on this campus. Every voice is important in facilitating change, this anonymous person(s) included.

 

What are your thoughts on the recent sexual assault chalk protests that have been occurring on campus?

I think there is obvious frustration with the way the administration has handled sexual assault cases on campus, and I support anything that gives survivors a platform or helps protect survivors.

 

Do you believe there is something more that the administration can do in order to truly show support and respect for survivors of sexual assault, misconduct, and harassment?

I believe there should be a zero-tolerance policy for anyone found responsible of sexual assault on campus.  Furthermore, there obviously needs to be a better mode of two way communication between the administration and students, because there seem to be students who do not feel heard, and the administration honestly seems to have failed to realize how bad the problem has gotten.

 

Have you noticed or been made aware of other responses to the way administration handles cases of sexual assault, misconduct, and harassment?

At the forum about Title IX team, you could obviously see that there are a lot of people frustrated.  I also have heard a vague rumor of some greek group working on an event to support victims.

 

What do you believe will help create positive change in support of survivors on this campus?

Survivors having a platform to tell their story if they choose to, and students who continue to passionately fight and work to ensure that the administration treats each and every case very seriously and works to ensure every person feels safe and heard.

 

What prompted you to reach out to Her Campus?

I have read and appreciate the work that Her Campus does on campus, and I know several of the writers and they are incredible, passionate, driven women; they want to make a difference.

 

What prompted you to create an anonymous email account?

I feel very passionately about this issue and know many people who have been affected by it, however, I am not a survivor myself.  I do not want to distract from any of these incredible people who have had the bravery to stand up and tell their story. They are the important ones, and I want them to be the ones that the focus is on.  I was very hesitant to even do this, but I'm hoping it will help draw attention to the incredible bravery of these survivors.

 

After receiving these thought-provoking responses, I set out to look at some of the chalk protests that surfaced in the quad.

Chalk protests at Augustana College are not new occurrences, but there are varying opinions on their efficacy. In light of the movement to better this campus in regards to the handling and discussion of sexual violence, it is crucial to respect the intentions behind those chalking the pavements. These chalkings are honest and unapologetic, and they inevitably send the message that sexual violence at Augustana will not be tolerated.

 

Again, these chalkings clearly illustrate the passion members of Augustana College feel in supporting survivors of sexual violence, whilst also emphasizing the immorality of sexual violence in all of its forms.

 

Chalk protests are not the only steps that have attracted the attention of the administration and other members of the Augustana community, however. Take Care of All of Us: Bringing Survivors’ Voices into the Light is another response to the recent events on campus. This event is not sponsored by any particular group at Augustana; Rather, individuals at this school identified the opportunity to create an event that would give a platform to survivors. Ultimately, this event aims to empower, support, and educate those in attendance. As someone who attended this event, it was empowering and incredibly emotional to come together as a community for a greater purpose. I felt inspired by survivors and supporters coming together in a safe space in order to engage in meaningful and sensitive conversations.

 

Amidst all of the passionate activism of students on this campus, President Steve Bahls released a statement the day following the Panel Discussion on Title IX.  

 

In his statement, President Bahls asserts that “Campus culture can only be shifted if we all work together, and [he is] committed to partnering with the task force and campus community to meet our shared goals.” He plans to make progressive changes within the school, ranging from hiring a student safety and wellness coordinator to “ordering a review by outside experts of our policies concerning sexual assault prevention, adjudication of sexual assault complaints, disclosure policies and support of victims of assault.” These are the types of actions that Augustana College must take in order to challenge the problematic and blatantly dangerous issue of sexual violence on college campuses. However, this level of commitment to change should have been prevalent from the beginning.

 

Sexual violence in a college setting is not specific to Augustana; Unfortunately, this issue is deeply embedded in an already flawed education system. Engaging in discourse about how to react and respond to these disturbing acts of sexual violence is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is definitely not the only one that needs to be taken.

 

If you do want to file a federal complaint about the failure of a school to comply with Title IX regulations, the following link explains how to do so: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/howto.html

 

As a final thought, it is important to consider and applaud the resilience of Augustana's students, especially those who engage in activism and seek to create change beyond just having a conversation. Although it is unfortunate and utterly disgusting that sexual violence is an issue at this school, the silver lining in this is the passion of the members of our community challenging rape culture. This culture is silencing, but as a student at Augustana myself, I am grateful to be a part of the voice that survivors and supporters have on this campus.