New Community Forum Discusses Sexual Assault

By Katie Theiss

The Office of the Dean of the College, Community Council and the Student Government Association (SGA) will hold the first Community Open Forum on Wednesday, November 7th at 7:30 in Crossroads Café.

The Community Open Forums will take place once a month and are designed to be an additional open space where students, organizations, faculty, staff and other community members can discuss any issue.

“The idea is to have a monthly forum for students to express their ideas on a range of issues to the broader community,” said SGA President Charlie Arnowitz ’13.

“It’s a way to build community, create dialogue and address issues of concern to students.”

Each Community Open Forum will have a topic in order to guide discussion.

The topic for next Wednesday’s forum is sexual assault on campus — in part selected because of the active community discussion surrounding Angie Epifano’s account of sexual assault at Amherst College.

“I think [the Amherst] article has had an amazing effect on Middlebury by mobilizing students to investigate ways that we can better aid survivors in accessing the justice and support that they need,” said Emily Pedowitz, student chair of the Sexual Assault Oversight Committee and a member of It Happens Here.

It is expected that the Sexual Assault Oversight Committee and It Happens Here as well as Active Minds, and Women of Color will co-sponsor the event with the SGA, Community Council and Dean of the College’s Office.

Such collaboration between organizations is the model that the organizers expect to use in future forum discussions.

Dean of the College Shirley Collado believes that these forums will “create a space where students can have conversations around important topics of their choice.”

The idea of having an open forum for students to speak their minds was first brought up last spring, born of the desire on the part of students and community members to have an open space to discuss relevant issues.

While the forums are expected to be largely driven by students, input from faculty, staff and community members is also essential to the creation of an open space.

“Anybody at the forum can be a full participant,” said Collado. “The topic of pass/fail that came up last year would have been a great forum topic because it involved both faculty and student interests.”

“During this first forum, we would like students to give their input on how these Community Open Forums should be used, since they are designed to reflect student interests,” she said.

While the topic of future Community Open Forums is largely up to students, Dean Collado listed social life, improving the use of spaces across campus, and communication across the student body as possible future topics of discussion.

“Ideally, we’ll spend half to three-quarters of the meeting on our featured topic and then open the floor to other topics—but we’re going to play it by ear and see how this first one goes,” said Arnowitz ’13.

“I think it’s vital for students and members of the community to have the opportunity to express themselves on important issues — it makes us all more connected and strengthens the work that all of us are doing,” said Arnowitz ’13.

The Community Open Forums will last for 1 hour and will be held on different days of the week at different times each month in order to accommodate the schedules of the most students.

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