Shifting the Paradigm educates on sexual assault, lacks discussion


Ryan Rivet | Tulane University

President Michael Fitts addresses the crowd at the start of Shifting the Paradigm, held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Kendall Cram Lecture Hall.

“Sexual violence impacts all of us. And we can do something about it,” the flyer for the third annual Shifting the Paradigm event reads.

Hosted by Title IX at Tulane and Tulane Campus Health, the event aimed to combat rape culture on campus by educating students about issues surrounding sexual assault. The event was held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the Kendall Cram Lecture Hall at the Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life.

Tulane President Michael Fitts began the event by stating that Tulane is committed to solving the issue of sexual assault. Fitts’s remarks at Shifting the Paradigm came the day after he sent an email titled “A Special Message on Drug and Alcohol Abuse,” in which he referenced sexual assault as a potential outcome of pervasive binge drinking and substance abuse. 

“… Our students use drugs and alcohol at a disproportionate rate, in ways that threaten their lives, their health, their safety and their academic success,” Fitts wrote in the email. “This makes our students much more likely to be vulnerable to crimes and more likely to commit crimes, including sexual assault.”

Fitts took a moment to clarify his comments, which were perceived by some as placing blame on sexual assault victims who had consumed alcohol.

“Prevention does not begin in any way telling women how they can avoid rape by just never taking a drink during college or never walk alone,” Fitts said at the event. “Instead the conversation needs to be about how not to rape.”

Fitts said the issue of sexual assault on campus will not be swept under the rug and ignored. Tulane freshman Sophie Brams, who attended the event, said she believes promoting awareness and discussion will help combat sexual assault.

“I think the more awareness you bring to it may not necessarily change anything, but it will force people to talk about things that make us uncomfortable, and sexual assault is one of those things,” Brams said.

The results of last year’s sexual misconduct climate survey were expected to be released at the event. Tania Tetlow, Tulane senior vice president and chief of staff, however, announced that the results of last year’s climate survey will be released Jan. 31, 2018.

The survey will give the administration more information about sexual assault and rape on campus, how often drugs and alcohol are used as a tool by perpetrators, who is facing the greatest risk of sexual assault and how the school can best provide the help students need.

Some students said they were upset the climate survey results were not revealed. Meredith Smith, assistant provost for Title IX and Clery Compliance, said more time was needed to complete data analysis.

“All along, our promise to the Tulane community was to share the data and an action plan for our response,” Smith said. “In part due to the strong participation rate, we simply need more time to be as comprehensive as possible with both.”

Smith instead presented statistics from Case Management and Victim Support Services. The data revealed that during the 2016-17 school year, 205 causes of sexual violence were reported, compared to the 105 instances of sexual violence reported in the 2015-16 school year.

While many students have historically been reluctant to report sexual assault because of the rigorous conduct process and the trauma involved in reliving their experiences in testimony, Smith suggested that the upward spike in reporting is because students may feel more comfortable coming forward.

“If a victim does not want to pursue the conduct process, that’s OK, and there are alternative resources on campus to support them,” Smith said.

Going forward, however, the administration hopes that the focus will be on sexual assault prevention, rather than what happens after an assault occurs. 

“Reporting is important, but by the time we’re at the reporting stage, it is too late,” Smith said. “We need to be focusing our efforts on prevention and changing our culture in a way that ends sexual violence.”

The event concluded with Tulane law student Margaret Martin leading a glow-stick ceremony. Martin prompted all survivors of sexual assault and those who support them to raise glow-sticks in the air to symbolize optimism and resilience in the face of this issue.

“There’s a lot of support, and it proves that people here are willing to work and make things right,” freshman Jessie Brown said.

Shifting the Paradigm, however, did not include participation from students-at-large or allow for any questions, making the conversation inconclusive for some students. One such student is sophomore Juharah Worku, who is also an Undergraduate Student Government senator and member of Sexual Aggression Peer Hotline and Education. 

“I felt that … our administration was able to communicate a strong message in support of survivors of sexual assault at Tulane,” Worku said. “I also recognized that there was no opportunity presented to engage in discussion about the information presented for the students in the audience in the event. If we, as a community, strive to create intentional, constructive solutions to really shift the paradigm at Tulane, then I believe that student input must be valued highly as a part of that process.”

Upcoming events about sexual assault will allow for student participation. USG will host a Sexual Violence Prevention Town Hall at 6 p.m. on Oct. 3rd in Kendall Cram, led by USG President Sam Levin.

“The goal of the town hall is to provide a forum for students to voice their questions and concerns in regards to sexual violence on campus,” Levin said. “This is an opportunity for our organization to give students a time to be heard and use that to carry on in our work.”

Disclaimer: Juharah Worku has previously contributed to The Hullabaloo. 

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