Not Alone: Westminster’s Title IX Symposium
An Eye On College Rape Culture
Across the country, colleges are attempting to shake off a rather unpleasant part of college culture; rape culture. With a recent call to arms on the behalf of assaulted university youth from the federal government, colleges and universities are starting to take action to make their campuses safer places. Salt Lake’s own Westminster College taking a definitive step by introducing a Title IX symposium. They hosted the first symposium last year, and this year’s begins on Sept. 18, focusing on educating students and community members about sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking. Westminster’s General Counsel and symposium instigator, Melissa Flores, was interviewed by SLUG to learn more about what the Title IX symposium means to accomplish for students across the valley and the state.
Flores says that the inspiration for the event came from the fact that campuses have issues “educating their students on what their rights are, what their responsibilities are, and what resources are there for them.” The event is scheduled for Sept. 18 and 19, a two-day affair involving speakers from across the country and student contributors. Not only will the basic outlines of Title IX be reviewed, but more specific issues will also be discussed. Friday’s keynote presentation will address the struggle of trans students who are not only coming out or transitioning, but also dealing with sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking. A look at the pervasive “bro culture” will also be included as Saturday’s keynote following a screening of the documentary The Hunting Ground on Friday. The school is teaming up with Planned Parenthood, the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the Attorney General’s Office for legal resources, as well as the University of Utah, Utah Valley University, Salt Lake Community College and Weber State University as financial cosponsors and content contributors.
All of these schools are working together on getting the word out and addressing these issues as well as to protect each others’ students. “Just because we’re Westminster doesn’t mean you don’t have friends from other schools, and we are trying to demonstrate that we have a responsibility to provide a safe campus and a healthy learning environment for our students,” Flores says, “but we also have that responsibility , and, likewise, that other places have a responsibility to our students when our students are on their campuses.”
Not only is the Title IX symposium aimed at making students aware that they have a right to safety and a voice no matter where they are, it also aims to instruct students about how to navigate the rocky waters of reporting sexual assault in the event of misconduct. “I think one reason that [these things] are so underreported is because a person is gonna think that ‘nobody’s gonna believe me, the police are way too busy for my issue, I don’t want my life to turn into a law and order episode,’” Flores says. However, Flores thinks that once the students see how Title IX can work for them, it will empower them to “know where to go if [they] want it confidential, if [they] want it to be investigated, or if the police are refusing to investigate.”
When asked if there have been any changes in students’ reporting since last year’s introduction to these issues, Flores’s smile is torn. “We saw a spike [in complaints],” she says. “I don’t think that meant we were having more problems, but that more students knew how to have those problems addressed. I see those spikes, and to me that is very positive, because I see that people are understanding things, and they know where to go. And then [those spikes] always, always level off and then drop. That, to me, is success—when people know how to access their rights, how to enforce their rights, when the school takes affirmative steps to disseminate that stuff.”
Flores recognizes, however, that the real thing that needs to be controlled is rape culture. “One of the tensions that we face is that we as institutions can’t dismantle rape culture because people come here entrenched in rape culture,” she says. “They’re entrenched in the ways that their high schools, their middle schools, and their parents dealt with things. People are coming here with their own ideas. How do we dismantle not only rape culture, but a misogynist culture, and a homophobic culture? I really hope the discussion changes, because then we will be able to send out [students] who are sensitive to these issues.” For that reason, Flores hopes next year to reach out to the K-12 admins, because as she says, “[Rapists] don’t come to college and become rapists. It happens before.” As far as the events continuing, things seem bright. With how eager all of the schools have been to participate, it seems likely that everyone wants to keep pushing back at the pervasiveness of rape culture, and forward to a much safer world for young people.