As the year gets under way, rumors about changes to the student dances have emerged. For the most part, these rumors sound like this: because of a spike of sexual harassment complaints following each dance, there is talk of shutting the events down altogether.
Like most rumors, this is only partially true. According to Campus Public Safety’s Lead Supervising Officer Jerry Rice, the dances do have a security problem. However, this security problem “also involves vandalism and alcohol, as well as sexual harassment,” and that actually cancelling the dances would be the last resort after a large number of other policy changes.
The dances have drawn the attention of the university in part because of what Rice described as a culture of excessive alcohol consumption. There have also been instances of property damage,like the destruction of the same sink twice in the men’s restroom of the University Center.
While this is certainly a problem, it is a different matter altogether from rumors of sexual harassment. In fact, CPS has taken only one such harassment complaint in the past year. This does not mean that sexual harassment is not a concern.
According to Director of Student Conduct Ryan Aiello, there has been “an increase in Sexual Misconduct reported during and following dances” throughout his 13 years in Student Conduct. Sexual Misconduct, however, does not equate to sexual harassment. It ranges from profane or inappropriate sexual behavior such as practical jokes that lead to an unwelcoming sexual environment all the way to actual sexual assault.
Aiello also points out that if anything, the fact that these incidents are being reported more frequently means students feel safe enough and have a comprehensive enough idea of the resources available to them to report exual misconduct. It is entirely possible that sexual misconduct has been a problem for a long time, but it is only in the last few years that we have seen students reporting the incidents.
When asked about the possibility of the dances being shut down altogether, Rice and Aiello both explained that such a course of action would be highly improbable. The most likely changes would simply alter when and how the dances are held.
Rice explained that CPS has considered purchasing a breathalyzer and simply not letting any student who has consumed alcohol into a dance. There may also be “blackout periods” that would prevent the dances from being held at times of the year and day that encourage irresponsible behavior, such as late in the evenings and weekends near the end of the term. Lastly, due to the issue of damage done to university property, there will probably be fewer facilities willing to host the dances.
It is fairly obvious that the dances cannot remain unchanged. It is important, however, to consider the impact of any changes the university or the student body may choose to make. The best course of action is to try and encourage students to follow some of safe behavior pattern while they socialize.
Most of all, we should encourage students to watch out for one another, to ensure that no one is threatened by a party environment or by activities being undertaken. It is a cultural change in how we socialize at large gatherings, not a handful of black-and-white university policies, which can solve these problems.
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