Approximately 250 Georgetown students participated in a Twitter and Facebook campaign starting March 2 requesting that the university hire a program assistant for the Women’s Center and Health Education Services who would handle programming on health and sexuality issues, leaving the two organizations free to focus on counseling and survivor outreach.
Students used the hashtag #GUProgramAsst to discuss the issue. They suggested that the assistant could hold office hours in the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access and the LGBTQ Center.
Take Back the Night President Sarah Rabon (COL ’16) outlined the need for a joint program assistant.
Take Back the Night is a student advocacy group committed to the fight against gendered violence
“We want people to keep seeking resources,” Rabon said. “To do that at a level that is appropriate for the student body and meets the needs of the student body, we need a minimum of at least one new person to oversee programming and bridge the gap between the Women’s Center and Health Education Services.”
Nora West (SFS ’15), one of several students organizing the campaign, is concerned that the confidential counselors at Health Education Services are sacrificing time they could be spending with survivors of sexual assault to work on programming.
“[Confidential counselors] are constantly faced with the choice of helping a survivor or programming around this issue,” West said.
In past years, there has been a significant increase in programming around education and prevention of sexual assault on campus, specifically with the addition of the mandated New Student Orientation program “I Am Ready” in fall 2014.
“We’re moving toward this framework of sexual assault education as something that’s ongoing through your four years. … If we had a full-time programming assistant it could be something all students engaged with … something that is an essential part of being a Georgetown student,” Rabon said.
“There is a fair bit of programing around sexual assault, but it’s the programming we’ve always had,” West said. “We have been maintaining the status quo which obviously is not what creates a cultural shift.”
The majority of tweets during the campaign were directed at Provost Robert Groves because he appropriates funding for the university, according to West.
Queen Adesuyi (COL ’16), who also helped organize the campaign, said that it was important participants understand the nuances of language regarding sexual assault and correctly use it on social media.
“There is a lot of language and academic issues involved with sexual assault that makes it hard for just the average person to advocate for it without it being problematic,” Adesuyi said.
To combat this difficulty, West created a Google Doc of possible tweets that she updated daily to be used by those who wanted to show their support of a program assistant but did not know how exactly to put that support into words, asking that students direct their tweets at Groves.
“It’s [Groves’] final decision and as a lesser known campus figure, he is able to remain unaccountable for his actions,” West said. “Part of this campaign is letting him know that we as students are aware that if a position is not funded, he is the person responsible for that.”
Groves deferred comment to Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, who said that he is seriously considering the request.
“We have worked collaboratively with students and colleagues across campus to address the vital issues of service to students and education/prevention work,” Olson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We take this request seriously, and are carefully considering how best to move forward in supporting and educating our students.”
Olson added that the university will continue to respond to student need and add staff to help the programs improve.
“We are very encouraged that we were able to add a new full-time professional in Health Education Services this past year, and we are committed to assuring that we are meeting student needs,” Olson wrote. “Through the years, we have continued to innovate, to add staff and programs, and to follow national best practices. We will continue doing so.”
Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Jeanne Lord and Olson have both indicated that they want to meet with students working on the campaign, but according to West, the meetings have been continually delayed.
“If this mattered to them outside of a PR perspective they would be meeting with us and they would be making room in their schedules to do that,” West said. “They can prioritize this issue and they have certainly chosen not to.”
Women’s Center Director Laura Kovach expressed an interest in working with students to expand services and staff for students.
“We are always strategizing ways to increase staff in our spaces within Student Affairs.,” Kovach wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We look forward to conversations that will provide us with the opportunity to increase our staff resources for students.”
Director of Health Education Services Carol Day said that hiring a joint programming assistant would have a number of benefits.
“We have quite a few programs that would benefit from the addition of the right person in a [graduate assistant] role who could help with ‘Are You Ready?’ and other programming initiatives around sexual assault and relationship violence,” Day wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Our professional staff are content experts and health practitioners who help facilitate ongoing training and work closely with [Sexual Assault Peer Education] and do additional training and outreach to student groups, faculty, staff and administrators. We would expect a [graduate assistant] to help with programming logistics but not necessarily be a content expert.”
Day added that Health Education Services is hoping to fill a sexual assault specialist position this semester, which could fulfill some student requests.
“We expect to fill that position with a health professional who has expertise and experience in providing sexual assault services directly to students in a higher education environment,” Day wrote. “That person will also help with training and programming.”
West said that the administration has also downplayed the need for a program assistant, citing how much progress has already been made in this area. She added that students will continue to advocate for a program assisstant in the future in different ways.
“Twenty percent of our female students are still survivors of sexual assault,” West said. “One in 33 men on this campus are still survivors of sexual assault and there is more work to be done. But our achievements have encouraged an attitude of complacency among administrators.”