Yes Means Yes: Sexual Assault in California and at SMC

By Nick Hastings

“Affirmative Consent” was defined Monday by the U.S. Senate, as Bill 967 was signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown. The bill redefines “consent” in California sexual assault trials, helping victims plead their case to the jury. Fox News outlines the bill here.

As alcohol consumption rates in colleges rise, so does the likelihood of sexual assaults. Two such incidents have occurred already this month at Saint Mary’s College of California, where Public Safety Chief Adan Tejada and Gillian Cutshaw, head coordinator of the school’s Women’s Resource Center, are doing their best to head off the sexual assault virus before it becomes an epidemic.

“Someone is going to die,” said Tejada, when asked about the notoriously high alcohol consumption rates that led to the cancellation of events such as ‘Gaelapalooza’ and ‘Oasis’. “Having people passed out half-dressed in the bushes [following such events] is not what Saint Mary’s stands for,” the Chief added.

Saint Mary’s canceled those events indefinitely because, according to Tejada, they were treated as “excuses to drink to oblivion, [and] alcohol is a major factor in sexual assault incidents”. The Chief said there had been multiple occurrences of students approaching Public Safety officers on the day of Gaelapalooza (traditionally held in April), claiming “the rules don’t apply today!” The school has become hyper-aware of the sensitive nature of sexual assault cases in recent years, with a rash of incidents that forced the administration to take preventative measures.

According to the SMC Public Safety Dept.’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report (accessible here), there were six occurrences of “forcible sex offenses” in the span from 2011 to 2013. There have also already been two more sexual assault complaints in the past month alone.

Cutshaw and the Chief were defensive when asked about the lack of preventative measures taken to stop sexual assault on campus, and with good reason. On top of P-Safe’s constant monitoring of the school and work alongside “all three local police departments”, according to Tejada, Cutshaw and the Women’s Resource Center work in collaboration with the Residence Hall Association (RHA) and New Student & Family Programs (NSFP) to educate incoming students about the dangers of alcohol abuse and the correct response to situations where a sexual assault may occur.

Recently, the longstanding “Alcohol EDU” program (an online series of lessons requiring completion from any incoming student) was replaced with “Think About It”, a similar program that Cutshaw said was “more interactive….[and] included more educational content about sexual assault and consent laws”. In addition, the drama program works with NSFP to create “Gray Zones”, a series of performances shown to incoming freshmen to illustrate the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as unhealthy relationships and sexual assault. “I would like to see a larger percentage of the student body wanting to participate in healthier relationships,” Tejada said when asked about his goals for the future.

When asked why the school doesn’t create more mandatory programming to educate students further about sexual assault, Cutshaw softened.

“All I can do is ask,” she said. Saint Mary’s doesn’t have the financial resources or the state funding of another, larger school, so they have to be careful where they invest. The school does currently offer several options to students who have experienced sexual assault, including the “Careline” — a 24-hour anonymous hotline for students to call if they need someone to talk to — and SCAR (Student Coalition Against Rape), a quarter-credit Jan Term class taught by Cutshaw that helps the students to become leaders in the community and speak in public against sexual assault and abuse.

In light of the recent assaults, the school is holding a “campus conversation” open-floor seminar to discuss possible solutions and/or preventative measures. The seminar will take place this Thursday evening in Hagerty Lounge.

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