BY MORGAN UNDERWOOD – STAFF WRITER
Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, there are 321,500 victims of rape or sexual assault every year in the United States, and ages 12-34 are at the highest risk for rape and sexual assault. 1 out of every 6 American woman has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence, and 1 out of every 10 males are rape victims – these are statistics from the RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.
These are some very daunting statistics and one most likely comes to the realization that many people you know, many people you care about have been a part of these statistics. On a campus that is as small as Centre’s we cannot let the Centre bubble suck us in and make us blind to these incidents happening right before our eyes, incidents becoming parts of these statistics. It is important that Centre as an academic institution take an active and definitive stance against sexual violence and assault and in support of its victims. As the student-body of Centre we must do the same, as well as encourage Centre to continuously better its environment.
Specifically, one student—sophomore Olivia Renfro—has gone above and beyond to truly encourage and hold Centre accountable as an ally of victims and being active in creating a truly safe environment for their students. Not just with their words but with their actions as well.
Olivia, after researching the topic, noticed that the Centre College policy on sexual assault and sexual violence was not readily accessible to the student body and difficult to read, with many students unaware of its existence at all. Centre takes a zero-tolerance stance but doesn’t exactly state what the implications of that stance are—as the policy uses generalized language and lacking specifics. Renfro, along with sophomore Annie Trentham, thus decided that they needed to push Centre towards a more definitive stance, bring more awareness/visibility to issues of sexual assault/violence on campus, as well as create a safe and supportive environment for survivors.
In order to do this they plan on actually changing the policy to be more specific on how to report a sexual assault (i.e. who to go to, where to go, etc.) and to more specifically outline punishments for those perpetrating assault and violence on campus. Currently, punishents for perpetrators of sexual assault range from a warning or counseling to expulsion. They would also like the policy to be more widely available to the student body so that each student is aware of the actions that must be taken in the case of a sexual assault and the subsequent consequences. The policy should support victims’ right to privacy as well, as the current policy states that it cannot guarantee the confidentiality of a victim; there is also a lack of a confidential reporting system in the event of an act of sexual assault or violence. Renfro and Trentham recognize that Centre asserts an atmosphere of safety and acceptance on campus but request that it is backed up policy as well.
In addition to their work to better the Centre policy on sexual assault and violence, they have a few other demands to create an overall safer environment on campus. They would like more emergency towers on Centre’s campus, one located near JVAC and the other in the courtyard of the Yerkes building. Until recently the two were not working for quite some time but were fixed over spring break. Two is good, but not enough. More would further a feeling of safety all throughout campus that no matter which part of campus you’re on that help is just a button-push away. Yes, with the advent of cellphone many believe we always have safety just a phone call away but truly there are many instances that threaten our safety where our cellphone might be unusable. They are also asking for better lighting across campus, especially in areas like the South Fields closer to the edge of campus. It’s true that some of what they are asking for has a significant price tag on it but many would consider the safety of students priceless.
The two have been gathering a wide range of support on campus from students, faculty/staff, and a number of student run organizations. People recognize the problems and are willing to help fix them. Some things that are being put into action are a “Take Back the Night” event, which is being spearheaded by senior Alyssa Christopher, this includes a candle light vigil, testimonies from allies and survivors, representatives from the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center, the Assistant to the Attorney General and Executive Director of Victim Advocacy will be speaking also. This will take place Saturday April 8th from 7:00-9:30 in Campus Center. Also they have discussed potential free self-defense classes, more bystander intervention training, and rape kits being available in Parsons Student Health Center.
It’s important to recognize that Centre is possibly safer than many other schools, but it is not immune from the problems affecting the world. Sexual assault and sexual violence do happen on Centre’s campus, many cases go unreported, many perpetrators go unpunished continuing on to create more victims. This is what makes the work the Olivia Renfro and others are doing so important. They are not trying to make Centre seem ineffectual or wrong, it is their love for their peers and for their College that gives them great concern and motivation to make it a better place.
It is important to bring light to an issue that is affecting numerous people on our campus, we should be able to give them a voice to be heard and the support to live through such a traumatizing experience. Thus, it is not a time for emails or letters with nice but vague words but for action and planning on how to make Centre an environment that is truly safe and supportive.