Union College senior Kelly Mears recalled an event at the college last week where students wore denim.
The purpose of the event was to bring awareness to the problem of sexual violence on college campuses. The unusual choice of denim prompted questions and brought the topic out.
“Simple events like that can start the dialogue,” Mears said Friday, “and starting that dialogue is probably the most important thing.”
Mears spoke after an event Friday evening at Union’s Nott Memorial aimed at combatting sexual violence on college campuses.
The roundtable discussion was led by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. The purpose of the event was to hear from students and administrators on the topic and how to best prevent it. Mears was among the students who spoke.
Gillibrand is sponsoring a bill dubbed the Campus Accountability and Safety Act that would provide new resources to survivors, require fairness in disciplinary processes and improve coordination with local law enforcement, among other provisions.
“For all of us who care deeply about our students and our communities, these rapists have no place on campus,” Gillibrand said at the event,
Sexual assault on campus has been at the forefront recently, where a female student accused a male student at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs of drugging and raping her. The male student was suspended last month for three years. The male student has not been charged with a crime.
Gillibrand’s bill would institute a uniform process for all schools for disciplinary proceedings and require sharing of information with local law enforcement.
Colleges in New York state adopted policies in December calling for all on-campus assaults to be reported to outside police for investigation, and private colleges have been urged to do the same.
Among the other students speaking at the event were Malcolm Sherrod and Shayna Han.
Sherrod, a sophomore and member of the Union College football team, said afterward that he was inspired to get involved in the issue after a summer internship, as well as the national “It’s On Us” program.
Sherrod said he sees education as important. He noted a bystander intervention training program that trains students to spot warning signs and to intervene to ensure their fellow students remain safe.
“I think the biggest factor in any kind of sexual-assault prevention is to keep the conversation going,” Sherrod said afterward. “Because it’s such a dark subject, I think the more we have an educated campus, the more we have a culture that we talk about it, that we don’t tolerate that here.”
Han, a senior, told Gillibrand about the importance of early education that starts before college. Gillibrand said she has another bill that works to address that part of the issue.
“The first time you hear the word ‘consent,’ it shouldn’t be on a college campus,” Han said afterward. “It should be as soon as you hear the word ‘sex,’ you hear the word ‘consent’ right after it.”