The Texas A&M-Kingsville “It’s On Us” event on Nov. 19 was held with good intentions but poorly executed. The fact that the student discussion turned into a seminar on how to protect yourself from being accused of rape leads one to believe that either the university is not truly aware of the issue, doesn’t care, or both.
At one point Kirsten Compary, Dean of Students, said, “We are going to teach people not to be victims.” The school doesn’t need to train anyone not to be victims; the school needs to teach people not to rape. The whole purpose and meaning of the event was quickly lost.
The fact that there is no policy on sexual assault is evidence that the school does not take this matter seriously. When questioned about the lack of policy, Compary said that our university had one. But then when students pointed out that neither the Student Handbook nor her own Dean of Students webpage had a sexual assault policy, Compary backtracked and said that a policy is up for review. Really? But we were told last semester that a comprehensive policy on sexual assault, harassment, and stalking would be in place by the beginning of this academic year. But here’s where it gets better: Compary said that a policy does nothing to prevent sexual assault from occurring.
She ignored the fact that one, a university policy makes the school in compliance with federal law. A lack of policy means a lack of accountability. Two, these policies do help prevent sexual assault and allow students who have been assaulted to feel more comfortable coming forward. Why would students come forward when they don’t know if there is an official grievance and adjudication policy? (by the way, as of this writing, there isn’t one).
Official policy ensures that there are consequences for those who rape and creates an overall safer environment on campus. Dean Compary cannot sit on a panel and say that the policy is of the upmost importance to her and then say that policies don’t work.
When questioned about the lack of a qualified counselor on campus to help sexual assault victims, the head of Student Health Services, Jo-Elda Castillo Alaniz, said that they work with the Women’s Shelter of South Texas, but that also students feel more comfortable dealing with the counselor at the Health and Wellness Center. But the Women’s Shelter that the university works with is more than fifty miles away and has been under internal review for poor management.
Nine counselors have either been fired or quit recently, including the local Kingsville Victim Advocate (who has since been replaced and works at a satellite office downtown). However, the position remained vacant during those first few weeks of the academic year when first-year women are most likely to be sexually assaulted (Google “sexual assault red zone” to learn more about this).
The Women’s Shelter of South Texas is not an adequate resource to refer the students to at this time. Further, even if students feel more comfortable when talking with the counselor on campus (there is only one counselor employed to serve approximately 8,500 students), that should not deter from the fact that no one is specifically qualified at Health and Wellness to deal with survivors of sexual assault.
When asked about the lack of a Women and Gender Center on campus, the panel answered that there was one fifteen years ago, but that no one used it—so it wasn’t needed. Have they bothered to ask students now?
They neglected to mention that students in a service-learning project funded by the university last semester assessed the need and desire to revitalize a Women’s Center on campus. Guess what they concluded? They agreed that the university should have one. Women and Gender Centers provide support groups for survivors of sexual violence, a place for LGBT students to meet and feel safe, lactation stations for mothers, and many other needed services. Just because administrators feel as if there doesn’t need to be a center doesn’t mean that one isn’t needed.
Amy O’Neill, the Title IX Coordinator, gave her speech on Title IX policies. The lawyer refused to use the phrase “survivor” at an event that is supposed to raise awareness of sexual assault and highlight what the university is doing to help survivors—which seems to suggest that the school is not worried about justice and due process for the survivor.
Rather, they are worried about protecting the university’s best interest. Also, timely warnings mandated by the Clery Act have not been properly sent out, and O’Neill was well aware of that. If students do not receive timely warnings, the school is harboring an unsafe environment. Why has nothing been done to resolve this issue? Does the school have the students’ best interest in mind?
This type of event can be helpful for raising awareness of the serious issue of sexual assault that systematically impacts universities nationwide. But there is no point in having these events if the university does not have a policy regarding sexual assault nor provides adequate services or a safe haven for all survivors. The university needs to not only assure students that a safe environment is being made for them, but TAMUK administrators need to act on their assurances.
Like it was said at the event, “if you’re going to talk the talk, then walk the walk.”
Charles Garza, Senior Political Science and History major, and concerned Texas A&M-Kingsville students