By Eric Geller
Kenyon’s Sexual Misconduct Advisors announced their new anonymous hotline on Tuesday, Feb. 8, with the goal of making advice and consultation more comfortable and accessible. Students can now call (740) 358-1544 to speak confidentially to an SMA about their concerns. While Beer & Sex, another student organization, has provided enough money to support the project through the end of the 2010-2011 academic year, the hotline’s status beyond the spring semester is uncertain. With that in mind, the SMAs organized a petition to garner student support and demonstrate the need for a permanent hotline. At press time, this petition had over 1,000 signatures.
A Jan. 29 all-student email sent by SMA co-leaders Rebecca Neubauer ’11 and Jillian Arenz ’11 noted that “most college campuses have some sort of sexual assault hotline” and pointed out that Kenyon’s small population could create privacy concerns for those seeking help without such a system. Neubauer said that hotline programs at her friends’ colleges “are very successful,” and that she learned more about the issue when she worked as an intern for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). “They are in the process of creating a database of college resources,” Neubauer said, “and I, along with the other interns, was shocked to discover that Kenyon was one of very few schools that we were researching that lacked a sexual assault hotline.”
“It is less intimidating to call the number and know your information is confidential and your identity anonymous,” Arenz said. “It gives the caller full control of the situation.” She pointed out that the hotline might encourage people to think more about issues related to sexual behavior and abuse, and said, “we are hoping the hotline will spark a general interest in discussion of sexual misconduct and we hope that people will call when they are unsure of actions they have taken that could be perceived as misconduct.” She also mentioned that for people seeking help with this sensitive subject, the anonymity of the hotline is comforting. “We are also hoping the hotline will reach out to men who have experienced sexual misconduct, since it is less socially acceptable and less recognized for them to be victims,” she said.
Due to the nature of their work, the SMAs operate as an extension of the counseling center in order to retain the necessary privilege of confidentiality. Thanks to this unique protection, only a court subpoena can override their promise of privacy. Student groups, however, must be registered with the Student Activities Center and the Student Life Committee in order to request Student Council’s permission to apply for funding from the Business and Finance Committee. If the SMAs reorganized into an official club to meet this funding requirement, sexual misconduct advisors would “have to abide by other school reporting procedures,” according to Neubauer. In order to adhere to those procedures, SMAs would no longer be able to promise strict confidentiality
The two SMA co-leaders recently met with Gavin McGimpsey ’11, the head of Student Senate, to discuss a solution to this problem. “He supported the idea of funding for [SMAs],” Arenz said. “He then submitted a proposal to the Student Council for approval which asked to include funding, through the BFC, for organizations that … were run under Student Affairs Offices instead of the Student Activities Center and/or Student Life Committee.” This motion was rejected, although Arenz pointed out that “some sort of amendment was made a few weeks later in order for Greek Council [to receive] funding.
Arenz and Neubauer met with Student Council on Feb. 13, but the Council decided to wait another week before making a decision. “They are hesitant,” Arenz said in an email to the Collegian shortly after the meeting. “They want to petition the students to ask if they are comfortable opening the door for things like SMA … to be paid [for] by student fee[s]. They feel [that] people signed our petition somewhat blindly, not knowing [that] the money would come from their fees that go toward BFC and Social Board, and now Greek Council.”
Despite Student Council’s skepticism about the nature of the petition’s signatures, Arenz said that the committee agreed with the SMAs about the importance of the hotline. “They feel it is something that the school should fund,” she said, “but honestly, the school is strapped and can’t fund this.” Continued financial support for the SMA hotline would have to come from the aforementioned student fees. Therefore, the long-term viability of the hotline will depend on whether or not the proposed Student Council petition finds genuine support for this idea. “Hopefully they will recognize that a good deal of the student body is behind us,” Neubauer said.
According to President S. Georgia Nugent, the proposal for the school to fund the hotline has not yet been advanced to her office. However, she commented that a 24 hour student hotline might not be a “high priority” given the availability of professional counselors and the health center. “I think you’d get very little traffic on [a student hotline],” she said. “Doing anything on a 24/7 basis is a huge undertaking … given that we always have deans on call, we always have safety people, we always have counselors on call.” Nugent also suggested that professionals might be more adept in dealing with student grievances. “On the whole, you’d probably want a more professional handling of a sexual harrassment complaint. Peer to peer counseling may not be the best way to go,” she said.