Student organizations host student-only discussion "What Can We Do"

Hundreds attend presentation and discussion on sexual assault prevention on Grounds

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Students participated in small round-table discussions and heard presentations by student leaders.

John Pappas | Cavalier Daily

Student organizations One Less and One in Four hosted a round-table discussion in Newcomb Hall Monday evening, aiming to foster a dialogue about how students can participate in combatting sexual assault on Grounds.

The talk, titled “What Can We Do: Advocating Against Sexual Assault and Standing with Survivors,” allowed students to participate in small group discussions to share their thoughts on sexual assault and violence on Grounds in response to the Rolling Stone article released Wednesday.

Hundreds of students came to the discussion — which was co-hosted by Feminism is for Everyone, Peer Health Educators, Sustained Dialogue and the Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition. Representatives from CAPS and the University Women’s Center also attended.

Fourth-year College student Sara Firestone, a One Less executive board member, said the event was unique in that it was entirely student-led.

Discussion questions included, “How does [the article] make you feel?” and “What are the productive things we can do now?”

“It’s going to be safe space for people to share their concerns, their fears, and their worries” Firestone said. “Most importantly, it’s going to be a place for people to find ways to direct their feelings, direct their anger, and direct their confusion into the most productive way possible.”

Fourth-year College student Will Cadigan, co-chair of the Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition and member of One in Four, said discussion is important to eradicate sexual assault and violence on Grounds, particularly in light of recent events.

“We were all really inspired by our collaboration with Sustained Dialogue to make this a place where people can come together and collaboratively talk about the things that this issue brings up,” Cadigan said. “There have been a lot of protests and rallies, which are wonderful forms of activism, but I think people need a space to come together and talk about these things and have thoughtful discussion.”

Members of the sponsoring organizations served as moderators for the small group discussions. As a moderator, Firestone said she tried not to influence the discussion.

“It’s not my job as a moderator to steer the direction in any particular way, just to keep it along the lines of what we can do as students now, tomorrow, next semester,” she said.

Fourth-year College student Caroline Harman, co-president of Feminism is for Everyone, also served as a moderator for the round-table discussions. Harman said the discussions were constructive.

“I feel that it was productive, and I think it has the potential to be the first of many dialogues like this,” she said. “A lot of people came out tonight that were really interested and really invested. I think it’s great to see so much energy around this very issue.”

Though only the first of many actions toward eliminating sexual assault on Grounds, Harman said the talk was an important step forward.

“It’s not like the issue can be fixed in one event or one night, but I think a lot of people started thinking about solutions and things that they can do — and that’s where the change starts,” Harman said.

Third-year College student Bella Reyes participated in the round-table discussion, and said the event was a way to voice her opinion about issues raised in the wake of the article’s publication.

“I’ve been hearing a lot of different reactions to the article, and I think that it’s important to be part of a mediated dialogue,” Reyes said. “A lot of the reactions have been very strong ones and very defensive ones, but this seemed like an efficient way to voice my opinion and come up with solutions in a safe environment.”

Reyes said her small group discussed topics such as bystander intervention, education about sexual assault and language employed in discussing sexual assault. Reyes said she hopes such discussions will persist moving forward.

“We need a deep culture change,” Reyes said. “We need to spread the word beyond this room.”

Before leaving, students were asked to sign “What Can We Do” pledge cards which read, “I will take the following concrete actions to support survivors and help foster a community that does not tolerate sexual assault.”

Cadigan said he hopes participants will be moved to continue to make collaborative efforts to eliminate the pervasive effects of sexual assault.

“This is something that we can and must find the solutions to, together," he said. "No one person has the solution, but if we engage in dialogues, I think that we can really begin to move forward.”

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