On April 6, students gathered in Oden Auditorium for a town hall meeting sponsored by Active Minds — a student organization focused on mental health — and hosted by the Sexual Respect Peer Alliance (SRPA), where SRPA members led a discussion about the status and future of the College’s services for sexual assault survivors. Since SRPA is no longer an officially recognized student organization, Active Minds officially sponsored the event and reserved the space.
SRPA’s relatively short history began in 2018. After the discontinuation of the Sexual Misconduct Advisor (SMA) program following changes to Title IX, a few former SMAs established SRPA to fill the gap in support options on campus. Since then, the organization has established its presence at Kenyon by leading conversations around sexual assault. In 2020, SRPA officially partnered with New Directions, the local domestic abuse support center in Mount Vernon, providing supporters with access to more training and giving the organization a greater ability to have an impact on campus. However, this partnership was terminated at the start of this school year.
The three co-executive members of SRPA — Julia Majesky ’23, August Hochman ’23 and Jess Besca ’24 — began the town hall by explaining SRPA’s history and the aftermath of the termination of their partnership with New Directions. The partnership had offered SRPA members the opportunity to undergo a total of 40 hours of training to be certified as sexual assault advocates through the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence (OAESV), Ohio’s rape crisis coalition. This certification allowed them to provide medical, legal and support services for victims of sexual assault. Importantly, it allowed SRPA supporters to be an anonymous resource for Kenyon community members.
The end of this partnership meant that SRPA members were no longer certified as sexual assault advocates, and the organization had to focus its mission on guiding discussions about sexual assault. Simultaneously, SRPA members began researching options at other schools (such as on-campus sexual assault advocates and group therapy sessions) and advocating that these resources be implemented at Kenyon. SRPA hosted Thursday’s town hall to include the community in the conversation about the resources the organization would like to provide in the future.
The town hall included a brief Q&A session about the services SRPA is currently able to provide and the resources available to students. They encouraged students to use New Direction’s resources, since the organization sends a representative to campus twice a week for confidential support. SRPA leaders expressed hope that this representative could help fill in as confidential guidance and support specifically for sexual assault survivors.
Students then shared their thoughts on a Google Jamboard about whether they felt the school lacked services and which services should be implemented in the future, and then the group reconvened to discuss the responses. One audience member brought up that the sexual assault education provided at first-year orientation was lecture based and failed to engage students. Another student noted that it is notoriously difficult to find a schedule opening at the Cox Health and Counseling Center, the only non-mandated-reporter besides New Directions and the chaplains. Another noted the potential benefits of peer-to-peer support compared to conversations with more intimidating figures like staff at the Office for Civil Rights or Health Center counselors.
Attendees left the event feeling as though they had learned something new about the school’s support for survivors. Erin Gallagher ’25 thought that the town hall appropriately addressed the student body’s concerns.“[I] felt a lot more aware of what SRPA actually was [after attending the event]. … I also felt like I could tell they understand the frustrations of a lot of students and were great at explaining a lot of concerns people had, especially surrounding the Title IX process,” she said.
SRPA leaders said that they believed this event helped students feel as if their voices were being heard. In an email to the Collegian, Hochman said she “noticed that as students were leaving, a lot of them were saying that this was the first time that they had a real student-centered discussion surrounding sexual assault advocacy.” SRPA leaders hope that more events such as Thursday’s town hall can continue to engage students in conversations around sexual assault advocacy in the future. “I feel like the town hall was the beginning of really creating a dialogue within the student body that I think will move us toward change,” Besca said in an email to the Collegian. “This town hall amplified the importance of having space for student voices to be heard and helped raise awareness for the clear gap of support on campus.”
SRPA is currently accepting applications for new members. They encourage students seeking support to meet with a New Directions representative who comes to campus on Mondays 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. in Peirce 212 and Tuesdays 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. in Chalmers 216. The representative is also available to meet at the Eaton Center if preferred. New Directions is available for contact at 740-397-4357.