Trigger Warning: This article contains mentions of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, rape, and Title IX. Please read with caution.
Whittier College’s Societies, one of the longest-running traditions on campus, have provided social organizations to campus since the 1920s. Though, with Societies fulfilling a role parallel to that of Greek life, there is cause for concern of what climate they create in terms of sexual misconduct on the College’s campus.
Colleges with Greek life presence report higher rates of sexual assault compared to colleges that do not have Greek life, according to the Chicago Maroon. When comparing the campus climate survey results from the 33 participating universities nationwide, they found that the “two schools with no Greek life on campus reported the lowest rates of sexual assault.”
While there is no data collected that would suggest a trend of higher rates of assault within Whittier College’s unique Society program, concern of sexual misconduct spurs from the culture built around nationwide social organizations and the anecdotal feedback that has been discussed on WC’s campus. This sparked members of administration in WC’s Student Life and the Title IX office to create a framework for mandatory sexual assault education within Societies.
Last fall, Associate Dean for Student Life Deanna Merino-Contino began to meet with the Societies and the Title IX office in order to create a cohesive curriculum-esque action plan. Contino, with the help of Associate Dean of Students Intern and Sachsens member, fourth-year Briana Boteo, formulated mandatory continuous training and education for Society members. The goal? To increase education and prevention for sexual misconduct, focus on survivor-centered and trauma-informed support, and improve upon the consent culture within Societies.
There are currently ten active Societies within the Whittier College community — five of which are intended for women, four of which are intended for men, and one of which is gender non-conforming. “In a way, Societies are leaders,” said Boteo. “They need to be educated as such.”
Before this academic year, there was no requirement for Society members to undergo training or workshops despite studies showing that education leads to prevention. Thanks to the work led by Contino and Student Life, this has changed. In the past few months, each of these Societies completed the newly mandatory sexual assault prevention training and an educational presentation on the College’s new Title IX policy.
For formal, education-based training, Societies are now required to complete the EverFi Sexual Assault Prevention and Education training, which is used by campuses nationwide. This training focuses on engaging students in a way that is interactive rather than passive.
In addition to EverFi training, Society members must also participate in a presentation on the new Whittier College Title IX policy, which was updated last year and officially published in November of 2020. “Part of the Title IX [office’s] goal this year is to meet with different groups and provide some Title IX training and education with certain policies,” said Title IX Coordinator, Lafayette Baker, who conducts these presentations. “[The policy] is very dense; it is complicated; there are a lot of nuances. We want to try and take different steps to educate the community.”
The training and presentation are currently required for each member of each Society to complete. Societies must participate in these mandatory activities if they wish to continue recruitment, new member education, and open houses. Society advisors and leaders also receive an email if their members have not completed the training.
In addition to these requirements, Contino follows up with the Societies in order to engage members and gain feedback. She also meets with Societies to discuss what further workshops or resources could be useful for each Society’s specific needs. “As a result, they are going to reflect on what they have learned,” said Contino. “Then, what action they are going to take.”
For example, the Sachsens — the only gender non-conforming Society — chose to do a workshop focusing on inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community. Other examples of workshop topics are toxic masculinity, recognizing privilege, and racial discrimination. Societies choose which workshops they feel would be effective for their members. Then, Student Life is there to listen and provide resources from professionals for the specific areas they are looking to focus on.
In order to ensure that the education provided is effective, Contino and Boteo have worked alongside ASWC Senate Inter-Societal Council (ISC) chairs Cole Schoech and Jocelyn Saldana. With Boteo, Schoech, and Saldana all having the perspective of being participants within the Societies and student body, they contributed a student perspective to what type of educational resources would create the most engagement.
Creating a safer consent culture takes longer than the span of a student’s time at the College. One difficulty that the College has faced in the past that student leaders who advocate for these changes graduate before their work is done. This is why Student Life admin and the ISC student chairs are working to create a framework that will improve over time, no matter who filters through the administration or the student body. “As an institution, this is something that we are committed to this work,” said Contino. “This [work] will live on beyond the ISC chairs.”
A study from 2016, conducted by a professor at Virginia Tech, found fraternity members were more likely to use alcohol, verbal coercion, threats of violence, and physical abuse towardson women compared to non-fraternity associated students within the same campus. A different study published in the NASPA Journal found that women-identifying sorority members were 74 percent more likely to be raped than other college women.
“Since my freshman year, I have known we have a Title IX [related-issues] problem. I noticed slowly, that it was mostly with the Societies,” said Boteo. “Knowing that, and understanding that there are survivors who haven’t gotten the justice they deserve, really pushed me to want to help even more.”
According to the latest climate survey report, 12 percent of Whittier students report that they sometimes experience unwanted, brief, physical content and four percent report that they often experience it. In the past few months, there has also been pressure from the community for the College to improve the way they address issues of sexual assault and make space for survivor support.
WC’s Student Life and Title IX offices are currently working to create more support for students by creating a “trauma-informed, survivor-centered” environment for students. “I feel really proud of the changes we are making slowly, as an institution,” said Boteo. “It takes time to plan things [. . .] but I do think that we are making progress.”
Moving forward, training, educational material, and workshops will continue to be mandatory for Society members in order to move towards creating community standards for Society members.
After collecting student feedback and assessing their current framework, Contino also hopes to open these trainings and workshops to the broader student body. “[Societies are] where we need to start with the work,” said Contino. “It is a phase process. Hopefully we can provide it to clubs and orgs, and then the broader student population.”
The success of these educational resources and required training to create a consent culture driven-education relies on reception and feedback from the students and their organizations. The Student Life office will continue to collect feedback surveys from the Societies in order to gauge what further resources are needed.
If you would like to get involved, or are interested in contributing feedback, you can contact Boteo at firstname.lastname@example.org. For questions and feedback directly regarding Title IX concerns, contact the Title IX office.
“Our focus is to let folks know that our Title IX process is focused on being trauma-informed and survivor-centered,” said Baker. “This works in educating our societies. It is not going to be one step. It is continuous, and it will continue year after year, term after term. It is a step in part of a larger process.”
Featured Image: Courtesy of the Whittier College Office of Marketing and Communications