Discussions about sexual activity, sexual misconduct, and school policies on these topics were facilitated by the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization in the Mural Room last Thursday and Friday. More than 100 students participated in five hour-long listening sessions organized by the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN).
Jennifer Elliott ’94, Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students, said that she hopes the listening sessions will help administration establish a better understanding of student opinions on sexual activity and misconduct on campus.
According to Elliot, she invited a third party organization so that students can express their thoughts without the risk of being penalized.
Elliott said, “We heard from students that they feel more candid with criticism and suggestion about the school when they are speaking with a third party…The listening session and how it was structured was all RAINN’s format, which I feel that it really resonated for us and the advices they were giving. Based on the students’ opinions, RAINN will offer us suggestions about how we can improve our education and training processes.”
Elliott plans to utilize the feedback and recommendations from listening sessions in order to improve sex education and sexual-misconduct response programing on campus.
“There definitely could be future changes, based on the opinions that were brought up in the event. In fact, making change is the main reason why we always want to be listening for feedback, and so the intent is to understand and learn where there are needs and opportunities, and how is it that we can address them,” said Elliott.
According to participant Lizzy Glazer ’21, the group discussed hardships that students face when reporting sexual harassment.
Glazer said, “We talked about sexual harassment on campus and how students of all genders can be sexually harassed and hazed. We talked about how girls in particular have a hard time coming forward about sexual harassment on campus, so we discussed how to make it a safe place for girls to feel comfortable saying that.”
Glazer also mentioned that participants respected each student’s norms for relationship boundaries.
“We talked about just from a more basic standpoint about cultural competency and recognizing that everyone comes from different places and everyone has different standards of what they are comfortable with regarding friend to friend, relationships, and family dynamics. I think it would be great if there was a more established sense of cultural competency around campus,” said Glazer.
Attendee Aidan Burt ’21 found that many participants are currently unsatisfied with the lack of student influence in policy changes at Andover. According to Burt, they discussed ways that the administration could improve communication with students, beyond instances of sexual harassment.
Burt said, “We talked about some of the changes being made next year that students didn’t have much say in as we would have liked, like the combined ninth and tenth grade dorms. A lot of people were puzzled with the decision, and the school didn’t tell us at all or make us vote. We used this as an example of how the community in general would be improved if there was more communication between the faculty and students.”
While it was difficult to reach a concrete solution because of the diversity of opinions, according to Caroline Empey ’22, she still found it interesting to listen to others’ opinions.
“Even though we had a hard time finding things to fix solutions since this is an institution and there are so many people that we have to please, it was interesting to hear what other people thought was wrong that didn’t have the same experiences as me. There was another person that I know and have had discussions with before, but it was interesting to hear upperclassmen and some other Juniors who were talking about this,” said Empey.
Emily Desanctis, a RAINN facilitator, said that although the listening sessions facilitated productive discussions, there is always more to be done.
Desanctis said, “Us RAINN facilitators were very impressed by the engagement of the students under commitments to make Andover a safer place. This is something that is not as seen as much in other schools. Nonetheless, there are always changes that can be made to the school policies and all.”