This article discusses sexual assault on campus. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.
After student complaints about inadequate preparation and inappropriate messaging in this year’s Hoya RealTalk play during New Student Orientation, Health Education Services held a feedback session and the Center for Student Engagement proposed structural changes to the weekend.
The Hoya RealTalk play, an annual interactive performance about alcohol, stress culture, sexual assault awareness and some identity-based concerns, is typically shown to orientation advisors and NSO captains ahead of the new student viewing. However, this year’s full OA cohort did not see the show in advance, were unaware of content surrounding sexual misconduct and felt inadequately trained to lead breakout discussions with new students following the skit, according to Captain Emily Jonsson (COL ’20).
Jonsson and four other captains in their third year leading NSO — who have completed Bringing in the Bystander trainings, SAPE trainings, I Am Ready facilitations and viewed past Hoya RealTalk performances — received an advance viewing of the play after they were asked to participate in the show and felt disturbed by the content, according Jonsson. They found that the final scenes of the play downplayed the severity of sexual assault, shifted blame away from the perpetrator and failed to include an explicit sexual assault content warning beforehand.
“Several of us left with tears in our eyes,” Jonsson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “While there were several problematic aspects of the play, the most significant, and the one that we had specifically asked to be removed 24 hours in advance of new students viewing this play, was the final three scenes of the play.”
Those three scenes depicted a sexual assault and its aftermath. After a drunken party scene that implied a sexual assault occured, a resident assistant casually talks to the victim and suggests on-campus resources she can utilize, according to Jonsson. In the final scene, the perpetrator admits he’s an alcoholic at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The play ends with everyone hugging the perpetrator. Behind them, a message appears on a screen: “You Belong.”
Jonsson and the four other captains emailed NSO leadership to request the three scenes be removed ahead of the showing for the entire first-year class, new transfer students and OAs. The captains were told their feedback would be passed along to HES, but no changes were made to the program’s content, according to Jonsson.
Though in past years OAs viewed and provided feedback on Hoya RealTalk before NSO, time constraints limited collaboration this year, according to Carol Day, the director of HES. However, this year’s play was reviewed by student health and well-being experts, she said.
“This year due to a new creative team, a new script, and shorter planning and implementation process time we had limited opportunities for more extensive feedback,” she wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Next year and in future years adjustments to the rehearsal schedule will provide more than one opportunity to preview the play so that NSO leaders and others can review and provide input in the pre-production phase.”
Problems with the play’s inappropriate content were compounded by a professionally understaffed opt-out room for students who did not want to see the play or engage in the discussions, according to Jonsson. The scenes sent a troubling message to students that left NSO coordinators and OAs concerned about the impact on new students’ well-being.
“Maybe this is the message that Georgetown wants to be sending to its newest students – if you are accused of sexual assault, it’s okay! You belong here,” Jonsson wrote.
Matthew Barnes, the director of orientation, transition and family engagement at the CSE, and CSE Director Aysha Dos apologized that OA’s did not feel prepared in an email obtained by The Hoya that was sent to OAs at 2:08 a.m. Aug. 26, the morning after the play.
“We fully hear the feedback that the messages received today were painful, triggering, and misaligned with our goals of teaching students about consent, bystander intervention, and sexual misconduct,” the email said. “We are so sorry for the burden you carried supporting your students and each other as you processed what happened. We are also sorry that you did not feel supported or prepared to engage in these difficult conversations.”
Administrators have taken other steps to address the Hoya RealTalk play, including inviting OAs to a feedback session Thursday night.
The CSE is also working with HES to communicate directly with new students to correct misinformation in the play and inform students about resources. The offices are also considering potential adjustments to NSO to explicitly address sexual assault prevention and continuing conversations with HES to ensure OA feedback is properly communicated, Barnes and Dos wrote in an email to OAs.
“In the future, NSO and HES are committed to making sure the NSO staff knows what to expect from Hoya RealTalk and is clear about their roles with regard to discussing their material,” Barnes wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Resources: On-campus confidential resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Services (202-687-6985); additional off-campus resources include the D.C. Rape Crisis Center (202-333-7273) and the D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiner Washington Hospital Center (844-443-5732). If you or anyone you know would like to receive a sexual assault forensic examination or other medical care — including emergency contraception — call the Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. (202-742-1727). To report sexual misconduct, you can contact Georgetown’s Title IX coordinator (202-687-9183) or file an online report here. Emergency contraception is available at the CVS located at 1403 Wisconsin Ave. NW and through H*yas for Choice. For more information, visit sexualassault.georgetown.edu.