MnSCU, task force implement programs to fight sexual assault

By Josie Gereszek

Students may have noticed a new course listing on their D2L homepage.

(FY14) SHV Personal Empowerment Through Self Awareness is the new training program in which all MSUM students are now enrolled. Since Jun. 6 of last year, the MnSCU-wide course has been shared with members of MSUM’s task force against sexual assault, though it’s only been live for non-task force-involved students since sometime last week.

The course’s homepage states that as MnSCU is committed to ensuring a safe environment for all of its colleges and universities, the course is to address the issue of personal violence.

“It will provide you with information regarding crimes such as sexual assault, rape, dating and relationship violence, stalking and sexual harassment,” it reads. “By completing this course, you will increase your ability to work and learn in a safe and healthy environment.”

The course is made up of three modules, each of which contains a 10 – 15 minute video and self-assessment.

Also attached is a public service announcement which students are asked to view.

The page continues: “Sexual violence is a critical issue in campuses across the country, and we hope you will join your fellow MnSCU students, faculty and staff in being part of the solution.”

Task force student representative Sean Duckworth said although the module is separate from the task force, MnSCU shares parallel goals.

“The intention of the module is to be a part of the ongoing efforts addressing personal violence,” he said.

But the program’s non-mandatory status raises the question of how effective it will be.

“I don’t think, and I would be incredibly disappointed if it were to be the case, that this module is the end all response or approach,” Duckworth said. “That would be doing a disservice to the community and to those who have suffered as a result of the offenses.”

He added that the task force will finish reviewing and expanding upon its recommendations, which were requested by President Anne Blackhurst in September of last semester.

“I think the task force has done as good a job as it could, considering the delay in getting it set up and the large number of members it has,” Duckworth said. “The members have been very conscious of the time constraints and the burdens placed on them.”

Its recommendations as of Feb. 16 include the expansion of anti-assault web and in-person training opportunities for students, faculty and campus security, as well as requests for campus spaces like the Women’s Center, Rainbow Dragon Center and the American Indian Research and Resource Center to remain autonomous. This stands in contrast to the proposed Mosaic Center, which caused a student protest in MSUM’s administration building in December. Women’s and gender studies senior Chandler Esslinger said it’s important to recognize the value of safe spaces on campus.

“The Women’s Center really provides a supportive community of people who have either experienced violence against women, or who understand it, and that’s not something that the larger campus community offers,” she said.

Esslinger said feminist spaces like the Women’s Center help to place issues that affect women in the forefront of public attention.

“Women’s stories have historically been left out of the conversation,” Esslinger said. “Feminism in relationship to sexual assault and violence is particularly important because it dignifies our realities with histories and stories and gives women a forum to express themselves and ultimately change society.”

Duckworth said upon learning of the Mosaic Center, many of the task force’s  members were concerned, citing priorities for the clinical and mental health of survivors.

“There wasn’t anyone who really spoke up or argued for [the Mosaic Center] at the meeting,” he said, adding a reference to one task force member who critically dubbed the proposed space the ‘island of misfit toys.’

Students have been concerned about the center in that it could eliminate safe, autonomous spaces on campus in lieu of a merge into the community area, which administration says would allow for improved collaboration among student groups.

“The places that have fairly successful diversity programs, like Mankato or St. Cloud, have a community space where the members of the diversity outposts or centers can congregate and collaborate, but they also still retain their own unique and separate establishments,” Duckworth said.

He said the task force has made a point to be committed to improving the campus community regardless of requests for moderation.

“The constant theme has been ‘We need to be bold. We need to be firm. We need to put pressure and focus on these things,’” Duckworth said. “When people have suggested toning down or trying to alter, we’ve had discussions about how we can’t afford to moderate.”

Students can expect to start seeing task force implementations soon, as the group’s recommendations are due to Blackhurst by Mar. 1.

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