Jessica Stevens, A&S ’14, and Joseph Palomba, A&S ’15, who both work in the Women’s Resource Center’s (WRC) Bystander Intervention program, attended a roundtable discussion with the Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault at the White House last week. Along with student representatives from other institutions, Palomba and Stevens met with senior White House officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, to discuss sexual assault prevention on college campuses. This invitation is not only a testament to the important work that Stevens and Palomba are doing at Boston College, but it is also a further affirmation that sexual assault is not adequately addressed on college campuses across the U.S.
The issue of sexual assault on BC’s own campus came to light last fall, when post No. 7122 on the popular Facebook page BC Confessions detailed three graphic cases of alleged assault. Although the post turned out to be a hoax, the circumstances described could very well have happened at BC, and this realization sparked a reevaluation of the attitudes surrounding assault on campus and the resources that the University offers for victims of sexual assault. While there was significant outrage in response to the Facebook post, dialogue dropped off after the student responsible for the post confessed to BCPD and the page itself was discontinued. The rapid loss of interest from the student body, further illustrated by the sparse audience at the follow-up event hosted by the Bystander Intervention group later that same week, was disheartening.
Last semester’s Bystander event was not the last opportunity students have to learn about preventing and responding to sexual assault, though. A panel event with the District Attorney of Middlesex County, which was cancelled due to a snowstorm in the beginning of February, has been rescheduled for today at 3 p.m. in the Heights Room. The fact that BC is continuing to foster discussion and provide information about sexual assault is positive, and ideally events like this will become common, so that students have continual access to information about such issues. Administrators who deal with these issues-specifically, those in the WRC and the Dean of Students’ Office-must continue pushing for greater understanding of how to respond to sexual assault, and the University must continue to search for ways to prevent assault on campus effectively. Hopefully the White House task force will have salient suggestions when it releases its recommendations in April, but in the meantime BC ought to focus on expanding the success that the Bystander program has already seen. Palomba and Stevens have found that the program is effective, particularly for upperclassmen, in increasing students’ knowledge about sexual assault and teaching them how to intervene in potentially harmful situations.
The culture surrounding sexual assault at BC can only change with the concerted, combined efforts of both students and administrators. While there are some students, like Stevens and Palomba, who devote a good deal of their time to addressing these issues and trying to figure out ways to prevent assault, significant progress will only be made when more students are willing to talk frankly about what problems they see and learn about what individuals can do as bystanders to help prevent assault. To that end, it is imperative that the discussion continues at the University.