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Sunday, October 27,2013

OU opens campus conversation about sexual violence, consent

After being stung by publicity over uptown incident

By Elizabeth Cychosz

In light of recent discussions and events on and around Ohio University's campus, the university opened up a space for people to come and talk about sexual violence and related topics.

From noon to 4 p.m. on Thursday, faculty, staff and students were welcomed into the main reception room at Nelson Court for "Campus Conversation: Sexual Assault, Consent and Bystander Intervention."

"There has been a lot of coverage of our campus – some good, some not so good – and we really wanted to provide an opportunity for us to check in with each other and see where we are as a community," said Susanne Dietzel, director of the OU Women's Center. "Where are we in terms of talking about consent? Where are we in terms of talking about bystander intervention? How can we empower our community to be a little bit more proactive around issues such as that?"

The reception room was full of tables, and each table was assigned a topic and facilitator. Many facilitators were students. Event attendees could arrive and leave at any time and move freely between tables, and all conversations were confidential. A side room was available for more private discussion. No photography was allowed.

Because of the structure of the event, waves of attendees came and went with the flow of classes. Even at a low point, however, roughly a dozen people were participating in discussions.

Some of the available topics were consent, "slut-shaming"/victim-blaming, the bystander effect and masculinity.

The event was co-organized by several offices and student organizations, including the Women's Center, the Survivor Advocacy Program, f**krapeculture and the Campus Involvement Center among others. Jenny Hall-Jones, university dean of students, also facilitated discussions.

Event organizers acknowledged that the Campus Conversation would draw a stereotypical crowd but defended that that in itself was good.

"My hope is that people who are already allies and supporters take this new information, old information and different perspectives to their friends who aren't as informed and disseminate (the information) in an organic friendship setting," said Allie Erwin, co-founder of f**krapeculture and a facilitator at the "slut-shaming"/victim-blaming discussion table.

Patty Stokes, professor of Women's and Gender Studies, brought her Feminist Theory class to the event. "It is preaching to the choir here, but hopefully people will take these conversations back into the community," she said.

Erwin added that because people who attended wanted to be there, the discussions were more productive. "One of the nice things about this event is that it's mostly allies here – people who are committed to ending sexual violence, at least in some capacity," she said. "Most of the conversations have been very positive and productive as opposed to problematic."

Erwin said discussions like these are important to have especially after the uptown public sex/alleged sexual assault on Oct. 12 during Homecoming weekend.

The incident involved a man engaging in oral and manual/digital sex on a woman against a bank wall late at night after the bars closed. The next day, the woman, who was identified as an OU student, reported it to police as a sexual assault. The incident was witnessed by a number of people, some of whom took video and uploaded it onto social media. Media outlets around the world have picked up the story.

If any charges result from the incident, they likely will be announced this week, as early as Monday. Neither the man nor the alleged victim have been identified by police.

"(I don't want) to over-emphasize what happened, because it's normal, and it shouldn't be," Erwin said. "Sexual violence is so normal here that it took the added step on it being on social media for attention to be drawn to this incident."

A follow-up discussion has been scheduled for Monday, Nov. 18, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Baker Ballroom B.


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