by TORI JAMES, Staff Writer
Editor’s Note: Several resident assistants were quoted anonymously in this op-ed, some of their names have been changed to protect their jobs and identities.
As part of Opening Weekend, incoming freshmen as well as transfer students are required to attend a “Fundamentals for First Year Students” presentation.
Some methods of this presentation caused a lot of frustration among various members of the student body.
This presentation is a legal requirement for the school, where they teach about sexual assault and violence on campus. Sexual assault on college campuses has been a pressing issue after the exposure of Title IX misconduct, and has been made stronger after the passing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Manhattan College, on the other hand, took an approach that seemed inconsistent with its Lasallian values and showed an overall disregard for student health and safety.
The first problem presented itself as soon as students entered the Kelly Commons Great Room, and found a leaflet entitled “10 Things You Need to Know About Sexual Assault” divided on both sides by “for men” and “for women” – immediately presenting these heinous crimes as gendered experiences.
On the women’s side, “Things to Know” included always watching your drink, keeping your cell phone charged, staying with groups of friends, and always making sure someone knows where you are.
The men, on the other hand, were told to know the definition of sexual assault, not to assume their date wants to have sex with them, understand that consenting to one act does not mean consenting to another, and to “remember that date rape is a crime that has serious consequences.”
The last tip for the women’s side tells females to “report it right away, don’t clean up, change clothes or tamper with the evidence.” The last tip for the men is to “be aware that men can be victims of sexual assault,” and simply says to “seek help immediately.” The men are not given the protocol that should be adhered to following assault.
“I’m concerned that they focused on the idea that guys are predators and girls are victims,” said a resident assistant who wished to be called Rick.
Both sides have a tip regarding saying “no.” Seeing as assault is not a gendered experience, one would think that these tips would be the same. However, the women’s sides tells females that they have a “right to say ‘no’ no matter what.” The men’s side says to “understand that ‘no’ means ‘no’ no matter what,” insinuating that it’s never men who have to set the boundary, they are the ones who need to be told “no.”
Despite the fact that Manhattan College did not make this infographic, by distributing it to the incoming students – all brand new to the college environment – they are certainly responsible. All of these tips are important, but by separating it by gender, they furthered the idea that men are always the perpetrators and the job of a woman is to not get raped.
Everyone needs know what the definition of consent is. Everyone needs to know their right to say no, and to listen when someone else says no. Everyone needs to know the protocol in the event that they are a victim. And everyone needs to know to be smart and safe about their decisions
The problems didn’t stop there. Dean Michael Carey was primarily in charge of presenting this information to our incoming students.
The presentation included phrases such as, “alcohol is always involved,” “if you want to make yourself vulnerable to sexual assault, get drunk or high,” and “sexual misconduct has never happened during the day.”
I requested to speak with Dean Carey for a comment on the presentation. He has not responded.
First and foremost, while alcohol certainly can play a role in sexual assault, it is not always present, and regardless it is never an excuse for these kind of behaviors. A person drinking is never setting themselves up to be assaulted, and being drunk is not an excuse for committing assault.
Saying that getting drunk is setting yourself up to be assaulted is like saying that wearing certain clothing is “asking for it,” ultimately avoiding the fact we should be teaching people to not rape, rather than how to not get raped.
“If you include cat-calling under the definition of sexual misconduct, then reports of students being harassed from a car while leaving the presentation at 4 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon clearly didn’t happen, as ‘these things don’t happen during the day,’” said a Susie, an RA who wished to remain anonymous.
Multiple times throughout this presentation, Dean Carey emphasized the fact was including certain topics because “we’re required to.” Regardless of the fact that the school is actually legally required to do this, presenting this information as something they had to do makes it seem to students that it was something they didn’t want to do.
“Dean Carey, the way he went about it didn’t sound at all enthusiastic about how strong of a policy it is at school. His tone was very passive,” said senior resident assistant Morgan Seger. “Do you even really care that one out of four women get assaulted on a college campus? You’re looking at a room of at least one hundred students who would be assaulted in this presentation.”
Making sexual assault seem like just another student life presentation minimizes the importance of keeping the student body safe. Some would even say that the school takes plagiarism as a more serious violation than sexual assault, often with more serious penalties and repercussions years down the line.
Carey claims that many of these legal requirements are unnecessary for our school because of its Lasallian nature. Clearly, since we already have “respect” on our campus, sexual assault won’t happen, making the Student Bill of Rights just another requirement that is more suited towards “bigger schools.”
But it seems as if this ignores every aspect of what being a Lasallian institution encompases.
“A fundamental aspect of being Lasallian is respect for all persons. By treating the safety of these students as a requirement because of the law and not a priority because of the very nature of their existence, Manhattan College seems to have violated its own Lasallian principles,” Susie said.
Because, as much as we hate to admit it, sexual assault is a thing that happens on all college campuses, and ignoring it just creates an even bigger issue.
“There was no sincerity or attentiveness to how serious these circumstances are. If you truly believe this issue on campus is a serious one, then find someone who is serious about it to present to the students. If you’re not passionate about it, then what’s the point? It’s just time wasted,” Seger said.
Part of the legal stipulation for training all incoming students is the caveat that if a school receiving federal funding does not comply, they will lose their federal funding. With the emphasis that this is only a requirement, it makes students feel as though their safety is a concern only once money is involved — that “we are dollar signs, not students.”
“This school raised me. I’m stepping into adulthood with this school and I put so much stock into it and I take everything to heart here, and they made it apparent today that they don’t care,” stated a senior resident assistant who wishes to be called Jonathan.
The reason that schools tend to deny the existence of sexual assault on their campuses is that it is bad publicity. If an assault makes its way into the media, the administration thinks this reflects poorly on them.
“The school wants their image to be of good Catholic kids who do not have sex, period — consensual or otherwise,” said Susie.
Admissions offices are understandably terrified that an allegation in the news will result in a drop in applications to the college. After all, what parent in their right mind would send their child to a school where rapes occur?
“When I look at my residents, I don’t see someone sitting in a residence hall; I see a person with a past and a future. I see someone’s child. Someone dropped their kid off at school and entrusted me with their safety. How can I sit here in good faith and say as a Catholic, an RA, and a student that I support these ideas because I can’t and I won’t stand for it,” Jonathan said.
Though many declined to comment, resident assistants required to attend the presentation were horrified at the content and delivery by Dean Carey. On the plus side, Residence Life has clearly hired staff that are able to recognize fault in the teachings of this presentation that in some cases violate their own training.
“I have so much to say about this presentation and the emotions and anger it invoked in me,” stated another anonymous resident assistant, Maria. “It makes me even more frustrated that I can’t say and do all that I want to, for fear of losing a job and a reputation I have worked hard for and earned. Throughout history, systems in place that harm or do not protect the people they are supposed to be protecting have relied on exactly what Manhattan is relying on — those with a voice, passion, and power have the most to lose.”
The other anonymous RAs quoted throughout this article expressed similar sentiments.
“The freshman are going to think it’s not big of a deal because it was presented to them as not a big deal,” stated Seger. “It’s terrifying, as an RA to all freshman, I don’t feel like my job as an RA is enough. I want to leave this college knowing the freshman residents I’ve had under my wing are safe and can properly assess a situation about sexual assault, but without any education or information given to them blatantly, how will they know what to do or where to go?”
“There was a total disregard for the resources you can go to on campus. They did not even mention RAs as a person you can go to following a sexual assault. We are the people on the front line for these events and they totally disregarded us as people you can go to,” said Rick.
Students are fed up. The last four years has seen a revolution in sexual assault policy, and while MC is compliant, the manner in which they do so remains as problematic as ever.
“I was saying this three years ago, you’re saying it now, and someone will sadly be saying it three years from now,” said Matt an alumnus resident assistant who also wished to remain anonymous.
“Students are not asking for much. We are simply asking for you to listen to us. We are asking you to recognize that we are people, created by God, with legitimate security concerns that need to be addressed. We are asking that you put more effort than what is legally required of you into protecting your students from harm, so as to actually reflect the Lasallian values we should strive to uphold,” Susie said.
We ask that the administration of the college that we love so dearly to create and help foster an environment we are fighting so hard to protect.