The student affairs office is providing Hillsdale College students with new programs on sexual assault and its prevention this school year.
College administrators have added the content to their existing series of informational sessions for students. The expanded training comes after a group of students, staff, security personnel, and law enforcement members convened last semester to discuss student safety on and off campus, including sexual assault.
The goal of these efforts, Dean of Women Diane Philipp said, is to provide additional education to students and to maintain a safe, healthy environment on campus. She emphasized that dealing with sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behaviors ultimately needs to be a partnership between students and staff, a partnership, she said, in which each person works together to strive for what is morally right and good.
“We have to work together to solve problems,” Philipp said. “Everyone wants students to be safe, healthy, and happy.”
Over the summer, the deans also spoke with a number of students about “ways they could further educate students on safety and security in particular” and “review the sexual misconduct policy and reporting procedures,” according to Dean of Men Aaron Petersen. These programs also work in conjunction with the college’s new student booklet on proper conduct, which includes school policies.
About two weeks after orientation meetings, freshmen men and women met separately with college staff members and outside professionals to review sexual misconduct policies and procedures, as well as emotional and physical health. The meetings addressed the content of the student booklet, which include the importance of partnership and the purposes of the college.
Director of Health Services Brock Lutz addressed all of the freshmen men in Markel Auditorium. Meanwhile, the freshmen women met in smaller groups, and each group met with Dr. Nichole Ellis, a local pediatrician. These talks also addressed topics including the dangers of sexually transmitted disease, pornography, and alcohol abuse.
Ellis said these meetings were good opportunities to be honest with the female students. While her talks touched on different issues regarding sexuality, her main focus was on wellbeing and healthy relationships.
“To have a relationship with someone — especially a sexual relationship — should be something that is not flippant,” Ellis said. “We’re in a society where the importance of that is diminished.”
When it comes to alcohol consumption and sexual misconduct, Ellis said students need to be watching out for each other. If someone drinks to excess, that person’s friends should help protect them from being taken advantage of.
Ellis said students were receptive to the conversations. While the subject matter was difficult and sensitive, she said she enjoyed speaking with the students, and she tried to lighten the mood with a little humor in her presentations.
Reagan Cool, a senior, was working on campus over the summer, and she met with the deans every so often to talk about ways to expand orientation programs for freshmen. She also spoke to groups of freshmen women on the importance of partnership with the administration. In talking with the deans, they all thought it would be best to have more education for orientation “all the way around,” Cool said.
“That included a more direct conversation on sexual assault,” she said. “The conversation was well-rounded.”
Cool said Hillsdale’s emphasis on partnership among everyone involved is, in many ways, what makes it such a unique institution.
“There’s this misconception that partnership is a scheme,” Cool said. “We’re learning how to be self-governed. When it’s evident to those who know better than us that we don’t know, they’re going to reorient us.”
For the freshmen men, Lutz said he wanted his talks to focus on the positive aspects of relationships before looking at negative situations. While procedures for handling sexual misconduct have been in place for years, Lutz said, he believes it is important to sit down with students to talk about sexual decisions and the dangers of pornography.
“We’re also seeing it as an opportunity to say, ‘Let’s talk about what we want to be right about your sexual relationships and healthy relation in general,’” Lutz said. “A lot of schools talk about sexual assault; I think it’s also important that we say, ‘Look, we’re not going to buy into the lie of low expectations of student sexuality.’”
In talking with freshmen men and male athletes, Lutz said he emphasizes that healthy relationships progress from friendship.
“Meaningful relationships and meaningful intimacy is based on friendship, getting to know people, and physical attraction,” Lutz said.
At Hillsdale, people talk a lot about what love is, Lutz said, and when it comes to sexual misconduct, one of the things he wants to get across to students is the idea that sexual assault is one of the worst ways to dishonor and disrespect another person.
If sexual assault does happen, though, Lutz said the college included contact information in the student booklet so someone can get in touch with college or law enforcement authorities right away.
“We wanted people to have a clear message of ‘let someone know as soon as possible,’” he said. “Let’s get you help as soon as we possibly can.”
He also noted that the six counselors at the health center also want to help students who have experienced sexual assault in the past.
“If anyone has ever had a sexual assault, whether on this campus or at home over a break, or when they were 10 years old, those are important things to talk about,” Lutz said.
The deans also held a meeting for students in Greek life to review sexual misconduct and responsible alcohol use. Also, in the annual off-campus meeting on Sept. 4, lawyers, local law enforcement officials, and Lutz spoke further on safety and procedures for reporting sexual harassment and misconduct.
Each of the college’s athletic teams also met this week to review sexual misconduct policies and reporting, as well as other topics pertinent to overall health.
The deans employ the same procedures for dealing with misconduct as they have in the past, but their goal this year is to offer additional information to a greater number of students. Petersen said they worked with student leaders, including resident assistants, to determine how to deal with issues as they arise. Their goal for RAs was to encourage their residents to treat people with respect and friendship, Petersen said.
In handling issues that come up, whether regarding sexual harassment or not, Petersen and Philipp said they see cooperation between themselves and students as key to navigating any situation. One case is one too many, Philipp said, and they always want to know the facts and help resolve problems.
Petersen said the deans’ doors — as well as others’ — are always open for students who want to come and talk. He said they recognize that these are sensitive issues. The deans can’t and won’t go public about any incidents for the sake of privacy for those involved.
While the college works to keep students safe, everyone has a role in promoting campus safety, the deans said.
“We have to be good to each other,” Philipp said. “We have to look out for each other.”