Commentary

Keeping the Spotlight on Sexual Assault

When I first arrived on campus as a Junior last fall, I had no idea what the word consent even meant.

During my first Fall Term at Andover, I was unaware of instances of sexual assault on campus. The only rape awareness education I had received was when I skimmed through the “Respect for Others” section of the Blue Book, and even then, I knew little about the meaning and importance of consent.

In sharp contrast, this year, Head of School John Palfrey addressed healthy relationships and sex at All-School Meeting (ASM) last week. He explained Andover’s “yes means yes” policy and its zero tolerance for sexual assault. Restrooms all over campus were plastered with flyers meant to educate students about sexual agency and sexual assault, the Mentors in Violence Prevention Program (MVP) club mentors 50 Lowers each Saturday about consent and Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students, has sent numerous emails explaining Andover’s goal to create a culture of consent.

This fall, I have noticed a significant increase in our community’s efforts to promote these much-needed discussions. We must be mindful, however, of ensuring that such efforts have a lasting impact. Last year, I did not notice enough conversation regarding sexual assault and healthy relationships throughout the year, and going forward, we must ensure that this does not occur again.

At the moment, Andover’s Personal and Community Education (PACE) and Physical Education (PE) curricula are working towards incorporating more extensive sex education. While these efforts are commendable, the PACE and PE systems have their flaws. PACE covers many topics each week, including identity, mental health, stress management and bullying, making it difficult to emphasize sexual assault awareness specifically. Students do not have a place in which to focus solely on learning about sexual health and consent. In addition, students that complete PACE and PE classes have no other classes for the rest of their time at Andover to learn more about healthy relationships. At the moment, students who complete these programs have no mandated space to revisit such topics.

The small discussions during ASM about consent and relationships that are scheduled to take place on October 7 represent a step in the right direction for our community. The recent sexual assault case that occurred at St. Paul’s School has also served as an incentive for our community to put more focus on such topics in conversations across campus. In upcoming years, however, new students may not have this opportunity to discuss such topics: These discussions are not required for the entire school community at any other times throughout the school year. Only when students attend club meetings and specific forums can they receive the education they need about healthy relationships and sexual assault. Often, conversations in dorms about sexual education only occurs at the beginning of the school year. These discussions should instead occur multiple times throughout the year in order for both new and returning students to be as knowledgeable and, by extension, safe as possible.

The only way sexual assault education can continue to remain relevant in our community is if students and faculty keep the conversation going. PACE should be made accessible to students of any grade, or the school could create a similar program for new Uppers and Seniors. New students must be required to be in a PACE-like class or an even more specific class based on sexual assault. In addition, our community should incorporate a “Sexual Assault Awareness Week” into the schedule each year in which discussions about sexual assault and healthy relationships could take place in workshops, classes and dorms.

The issue of sexual assault is too relevant and too serious not to be addressed in depth. We must never go back to being a community in which the only place to discuss topics of consent and assault is in a marginal section of our rule book.

Oct 1, 2015