On Wednesday, a group of around 20 students gathered at the LGBT Center to discuss sexual violence in the community, following a recent survey showing a low report rate of the crime.
On Sept. 21, Penn released the results from a sexual assault climate survey conducted by the Association of American Universities, which revealed statistics on sexual assault and misconduct incidents, as well as reporting about how attitudes regarding how the incidents would be handled. Twenty-seven schools participated in the survey, which released aggregate data, though Penn released its own results separately.
Fifty-four Penn students who responded to the report identified as TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, questioning or non-conforming), 29 of them undergraduates. Over 50 percent of respondents identifying as TGQN undergrads believed campus officials would take no or little action against a perpetrator of sexual violence, compared to under 25 percent of those who identified as either male or female undergraduates. Biostatistics professor Scarlett Bellamy pointed to how the numbers regarding actual incidents were the bleakest for women, especially those who identified as TGQN, a trend consistent throughout the schools.
“Having the scope of the problem quantified gives us the power to act,” Bellamy said. “This report has created a comprehensive baseline for us to begin looking for ways to improve the cultural climate and make the picture better.”
Following Bellamy’s presentation, Director of Student Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Jessica Mertz gave an overview of the resources available at Penn. Mertz went over the different programming facilitated by Penn Violence Prevention, such as the student anti-violence advocate training, as well as the comprehensive list of safe and confidential resources listed on PVP’s website.
“I’m a faculty member and have been for many years, but if a student came to me asking me about resources for these issues, I wouldn’t know off the top of my head where to send them,” Bellamy said. “The school is raising consciousness and awareness around these issues but it’s incremental. What I will do now though is take this back to my graduate group and say ‘we’ve got to do something about this.’”
For the remainder of the time, students in the audience were allowed to voice their opinions on the survey, its shortcomings, its importance, and how they thought Penn was responding to it.
A transfer student in the audience compared their experience with the administration at Penn to that of their former school. “Before I came to Penn, I attended Columbia, and the school’s treatment of sexual assault left me with a sense that [the] administration is untrustworthy in tending to the deep trauma that occurs to someone in a sexual violence incident,” the student said. “And I don’t necessarily trust the president of Penn’s real intentions either. I don’t mean to be cynical, but I want to know what Penn is going to really do differently, with the results from this survey.”
Mertz responded by saying, “As somebody who has worked at Penn and with supporting survivors, I can say there is a genuinely concerned, thoughtful and well-trained team of us to support survivors individually and through group-counseling. I think the work we’ve done on the ground has been powerful over the years but I don’t know yet what those efforts will look like on a bigger scale. There isn’t an easy solution for prevention or response, and that’s why we need your voices, we need your spirit.”
Other students said there needs to be more done on campus to prevent sexual assault, though they also hesitated on answering what “doing more” would exactly entail. One student suggested that scrutiny and anger should not be directed at the administration but instead at the culture of Penn. “Amy Gutmann can hire more people to work on this issue but what we need to do is address the party culture, the Greek life culture, the pre-professional culture, the super hierarchical nature of student organizations on campus and how they’re contributing to the sexual violence,” another student said.
“This data is a starting point, but it’s the personal experiences that are going to drive us forward,” Associate Director of the LGBT Center Erin Cross said in closing.
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