Sexual Assault Case at St. Paul’s Sparks Conversation at Andover

According to The Phillipian’s 2015 State of the Academy, 80 students reported having been sexually assaulted. Of these, 38 people reported having been sexually assaulted on campus. This coming year at Andover, new systems and protocol revisions have been installed to help prevent sexual assault on campus as well as provoke more insightful dialogue around this issue.

Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students, has been working closely with faculty members and doctors at Isham Health Center and Graham House to create systems that encourage victims of sexual assault on campus to feel comfortable and safe when communicating with adults.

All of the counselors at Graham House and staff at Isham Health Center will have completed “First Responders: Responding to Sexual Assault Disclosures,” an online course offered by the Boston Rape Crisis Center, within the coming weeks.

“Victims explain that those [first] conversations are so essential in their ability to process and in their ability to move forward. We feel particularly adamant that those conversations are safe for our kids. That’s really important,” said Elliott.

Carol Israel, Director of Graham House, said, “We are always doing professional development. We are always taking classes to keep current. This is something we’ve always done. This year, our first professional development is going to be focused on responding to sexual assault disclosure. It seemed that that was a good topic to put at the top of our list in terms of what we need to focus on.”

Elliott and her team have also created a flow-chart modeling those found on college campuses that will allow students to identify their options when dealing with sexual assault. These flow-charts will be posted in locations accessible to both students and faculty.

“We’re working from this [flow-chart] angle in terms of how to support our victims, but we’re also doing a lot of work in terms of trying to promote conversation, trying to strategize for means of prevention and trying to work with our kids so that the feel they have the resources before assault or any sort of violence happens,” said Elliott.

Dr. Amy Patel, Medical Director at Isham Health Center, said, “The biggest thing that has changed is that we need to make sure that all students can speak to our sexual assault policies and procedures. Everyone needs to have ready access to these procedures.”

In addition to the sexual assault flow-chart, the new CrisisManager app features an option for students to report a case of sexual assault. As identified in the protocols on the app, if and when a student reports a case of sexual assault, that student will be admitted to Isham as quickly as possible so that staff members can provide private and safe support.

“From my perspective, when we collect data, whether it’s through The Phillipian or the student health survey, we’re never going to be satisfied with a number greater than zero of students who have been the victim of sexual assault on campus. That is not acceptable,” said Elliott.

Following the Strategic Plan of 2014-2015, the school will continue to develop the four-year Empathy and Balance curriculum that focuses on health, wellness and community well-being to encompass more education about sexual assault. This summer was spent developing new courses for the curriculum, such as a ninth grade course in the style of Personal and Community Education (PACE) classes pertaining to sexual assault education, and revising what current courses are offered to align more concretely with these new goals. The Physical Education department has also offered more time for the staff at Isham to expand the sexual education course given when students take its classes.

Patel said, “We’ve opened the door for anyone to have conversations with us if anything is happening. Actually, as adults, we have a lot that we want to educate and offer. More and more, we’re developing programs that include students as active bystanders. Students play a pivotal role [in] ensuring that the culture changes.”

“We want to not only be supportive of them but also to create a culture on this campus that is actively against a rape culture,” she continued.

The recent St. Paul’s School sexual assault case has ignited conversations around sexual assault on campus. Two All-School Meetings centering around this topics will be held in the next few weeks in order to address these conversation. One will be led by Head of School John Palfrey to outline the school’s sexual assault policies. The other will involve an activity where students divide into groups and engage in faculty-led conversations about healthy relationships.

“The broad term we’re using for these programs is ‘Healthy Relationships and Safe Choices.’ We feel as if having these additional programs where we will hold small group discussions will bring everybody up to speed and help everyone feel more comfortable not just talking about issues, but also changing some behaviors on campus,” said Rajesh Mundra, Assistant Dean of Students.

Expected to be at the forefront of the creation of this conversations are Prefects and Proctors. This year’s Prefect and Proctor training programs have placed a heavy emphasis on initiating discussions about healthy romantic and sexual relationships.

“It is important for Proctors and Prefects to be able to facilitate discussions with both the House Counselors [and] fellow students. In the training program, we talked about ways in which they can facilitate that type of conversation,” Mundra said, “ The Proctors and Prefects themselves have had conversations with each other, not just about the nature of sexual assault but about school codes and traditions, about keeping silence [and] the bystander behavior at this school.”

Elliott said, “These conversations have been going on for years, and I think the [recent] St. Paul’s case no doubt felt like it electrified conversations in all of our boarding schools in thinking about our unique challenges that we face as a residential school. Every time there’s a massive case… I think educators feel a heightened sense of responsibility to our kids.”