Scoring the Candidates’ Sexual Respect Initiatives

Speaking earlier this week at The Amherst Association of Students Speech Night, Presidential Candidate Amani Ahmed opened by emphasizing the outstanding nature of her three fellow candidates, Julian Boykins, Peter Crane, and Tomi Williams. And she’s right: there’s little doubt that this election will be a close one. Each candidate boasts an impressive record of involvement on campus, and I have no doubt that all of their campaigns are well intentioned. However, looking to their respective platforms, I can’t help but notice significant divergence in the nature and degree of each candidate’s attention to sexual respect initiatives on campus. So, in the spirit of collectively working for our community’s best interests, I’d like to take this opportunity to take a closer look at the sexual respect initiatives that appear on our four candidates’ platforms.

Below I’ve summarized each candidate’s sexual respect platform. Their full platforms can be found on facebook.

Amani Ahmed ‘15

Amani’s platform speaks to four sexual respect issues:

1) Forewarning of “triggering” materials in classrooms

What’s good: properly alerting students to the presence of “triggering” materials is crucial in creating an educational environment that recognizes and supports trauma survivors.

What’s not: Amani’s suggestion that faculty undergo sensitivity training is an interesting one, but I’d be curious to hear how this would play out in light of Liya Rechtman’s interview with incoming Dean of Faculty Catherine Epstein. It would appear that the faculty is frequently against compulsory initiatives, so how will Amani work to put her platform point meaningfully into practice?

2) Broader education about mandated reporters on campus

What’s good: Intentional education about mandated reporters – students, staff, and faculty who are legally required to report incidents of sexual misconduct to the Title IX Coordinator – is very important. As a Peer Advocate of Sexual Respect, I worry that people may come to me looking for help or resources without understanding my legal obligation to report. If we can spread information about mandatory reporting from orientation onwards, we can potentially avoid this problem.

What’s not: It’s an important initiative, but it’s vaguely defined here and needs to be clearly spelled out in an AAS context to make it meaningful to running, specifically, for an executive position.

3) Insurance of AAS Budgetary Committee compliance with Title IX

What’s good: Title IX compliance is a great legal way to measure whether an important group like AAS is meeting a greater moral standard for our campus community.

What’s bad: If you haven’t been to any senate meetings recently or looked at the meeting minutes, Amani’s point is probably confusing. The AAS is in the process of investigating how best to insure gender equity in their funding procedures for club sports. For example, if two club teams receive the same equipment, but their costs differ, does the other team have a right to collect the difference under Title IX? The answer indicated by Title IX Coordinator Laurie Frankl is that Title IX is about equal access to resources, not necessarily dollar-for-dollar equivalency. It’s important to keep these issues in mind, but for the time being this BC issue actually seems largely resolved.

4) Increased presence of Peer Advocates and Student Health Educators in first year dorm programming

What’s good: Heavier presence of PAs and SHEs in first year dorms makes a lot of sense. The first semester of one’s first year is a formative time for most students, so education about sexual respect can be especially valuable.

What’s not: The role of AAS in making this happen is unclear. How does AAS make this happen beyond simply telling these groups to hold more programs in first year dorms? Conversations about orientation, where AAS can be significantly influential, are already taking place.

Julian Boykins ‘15

Julian’s platform speaks to one sexual respect issue:

1) In the interest of doing more, we should form a committee of students, faculty, and administrators to tour other schools and learn from their best practices

What’s good: It seems like an innovative idea. Learning from our peers is a helpful way of avoiding the perils of a purely Amherst lens.

What’s not: I’d be curious to hear how this new committee could do what has not already been done by the Sexual Misconduct Oversight Committee, (which was comprised of administrators, faculty, and students) and its report, which extensively reviews best practices at other institutions. Additionally, how can we avoid potentially unnecessary overlap with another already existing committee made up of faculty, administrators, and students – this sounds a lot like the already existing Sexual Respect Task Force.

Peter Crane ‘15

Peter’s platform speaks to six sexual respect issues:

1) Empower the new Title IX Review Committee: make sure it has student voices, respects survivors, and is taken seriously

What’s good: I’ve been working in my capacity as AAS Sexual Respect Officer to help this project get off the ground, so I’m absolutely in support of it. Peter is correct when he says that this committee needs to be empowered, well understood, and intentional. In fact, Peter requested to meet with me early this week to confirm his understanding of the future committee’s role. I’m glad he is so passionate about making sure the Title IX Review Committee functions properly.

What’s not: I feel the need to note that the credit for actually generating this committee must go to AAS members George Tepe and Liya Rechtman, who have devoted countless hours of their academic year working with the Title IX Coordinator to create a framework for founding the committee. I think it’s important for students to understand that the work necessary for actually starting this committee has already been largely completed and that the remaining development process will be completed before next year actually begins.

2) Ensure orientation avoids lecture-style education about sexual respect and engages students’ critical thinking skills and informs them of their legal rights

What’s good: Peter and Amani both emphasize the role of early education on campus. This has been a consistent theme in orientation reform and of discussion in the faculty Orientation Committee, so I’m glad to see both candidates engage with the issue.

What’s not: The idea of “engaging critical thinking” is definitely vague.

3) Students need to be informed of their available resources

What’s good: It’s a standard, important aspect of sexual respect education.

What’s not: There is no unique AAS angle to this point, so it’s hard to evaluate in terms of deciding who would make the best president.

4) Gender-neutral pronouns in all documents and speech

What’s good: everything about this idea. It’s a crucial step for inclusion in sexual respect policy and campus community.

What’s not: no complaints here – I absolutely agree with this point.

5) An extra course on critically analyzing our community

What’s good: Academic group reflection on campus culture has the potential to have important positive learning outcomes.

What’s not: This idea has been floating around for a while. Getting it off the ground will take considerable effort and devotion from Peter if he sticks to his platform.

6) More alternative sub-free programming as a way to bring different campus groups together in “fun, unique, and safe” ways

What’s good: Campus events like AC After Dark seem to be successful at drawing good crowds. I enjoy them, and it does seem as though a range of people attend.

What’s not: Nothing. I’m totally in favor of more sub-free campus events in the interest of community building.

Tomi Williams ’16:

Tomi’s sexual respect platform speaks to three issues:

1) Mandatory bystander and PA training for clubs, club sports, and sports to receive AAS funding

What’s good: This has long been the goal of a number of groups and individual students on campus. It’s a great way to educate, and it uses funding eligibility to make sure a variety of student groups are receiving important education.

What’s not: Its implementation will be difficult and will likely require formal amendments to AAS budgetary policy. Still, I’m heavily in support of this idea.

2) Accessible explanation of Title IX for students

What’s good: Most students feel confused by what exactly Title IX means. Getting everyone on the same page is important.

What’s not: This explanation already exists within the college’s sexual respect webpages. However, Tomi is still right to suggest that there is some confusion on campus.

3) Give students “advance and continuous notice of resources” about sexual respect

What’s good: pursuit of active education is ideal. We don’t want students trying to remember a broad set of phone numbers, resource centers, and support pathways that they only learned way back during orientation.

What’s not: Tomi would do well to discuss specifically unique approaches to this idea.

I recognize that sexual respect is not the only issue on this campus, and I also know that each candidate has something great to bring to the AAS. If I’m speaking purely in terms of sexual respect, however, the scope and diversity of Peter and Tomi’s platforms make him them the most appealing candidates for these issues. Peter presents the clearest personal history of sexual respect advocacy, and I appreciate his attempts to get up-to-speed on the current state of sexual respect institutions on campus. Tomi’s focus on mandatory bystander training built into the AAS budgetary process is the perfect example of something that AAS specifically can plan and execute to benefit sexual respect education on campus. It’s an initiative that recognizes and deliberately relies upon the specific role of AAS. That being said, I see ideas in Amani and Julian’s platforms that are important too. “Trigger warnings” are an important piece of making education accessible to everyone, and keeping our eyes on the broader scope of our fellow college campuses can definitely be helpful again in the future. In the end, the best we can hope for is that whoever wins tangibly and meaningfully continues the fight for a sexually respectful Amherst community.