Student Reflects on Surviving Sexual Assault

By DAVID VARGAS

Those who have gotten to meet me probably know that I am a 21-year-old freshman, that I took part in two gap years before coming to Middlebury, and that I am running for first year senator. I noted throughout the application process that during my second gap year I enrolled in a computer science course, coded, worked, pursued my passion for bicycles, worked on college applications and spent time with family.

Yet I left behind details about my life that I did not feel comfortable sharing at the time. I left out the fact that most of that year was spent dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault, both in hospital beds and at meetings for an investigation that would culminate with the impunity of my perpetrator.

After having completed a highly rewarding gap year abroad in Leon, Nicaragua, working with renewable and energy efficiency initiatives, I returned home to partake in a summer program hosted at the university I was expecting to attend. But shortly before the program’s end, my life encountered the same predicament that too often affects young, college-bound men and women across the nation.

The story is all too familiar: a drunken night. A clouded mind. Unwanted touch. And finally, overwhelming confusion, anger, fear, sadness, powerlessness and even self-hatred and blame. I was unable to leave my dorm hall, eat in the dining halls or even sleep. I was forced to silently catch a train home and take a second gap year.

Fast-forwarding to my life here and now as a new Middlebury student I find myself running for first-year senate. I feel it is important to echo the words of Gregory Buckles, dean of admissions, during his convocation speech this past September: “We’re not looking for perfection, nor should you get wrapped up in finding perfection here at Middlebury,” he stated. “The truth is you’re not going to find it.”

While I do not expect Middlebury to be perfect, I do expect it to be better than what I encountered at the other college I was planning on attending (and thankfully never did). I expect it to be better than that place where I was told by an administrator to ‘learn my lesson,’ after painfully recounting my sexual assault. And thus far it has.

Over this past summer I contacted Sue Ritter (Title IX coordinator) asking for resources for survivors and received support. I recognize the complexity of the issues that permeate Middlebury’s campus, as well as my own personal lack of sufficient knowledge needed to form a fully educated and rational opinion. But I see that the college still has a long way to go when it comes to addressing sexual assault, health, transparency and accountability.

While I would like to refrain as much as possible from engaging in the gratuitous enumeration of the several positions that make up my platform, focusing on the source of the passion that drives this campaign instead, I feel it is important to discuss ways in which the school can more seriously tackle gender-based violence.

Health Care Access

To improve students’ access to their healthcare needs, the school should follow in the footsteps of colleges and install vending machines providing emergency contraception (Plan B), condoms, tampons, Advil and other medical products that students may need access to when Parton Health Centre is closed. This is particularly relevant for emergency contraception which research shows is most often needed during weekends.

Student Accountability

One of the main policies that I would like to pursue includes the creation of a student accountability office to facilitate avenues of cooperation between students and administrators, and provide productive criticism. This office would afford students the ability to report safely, comfortably and anonymously inappropriate behaviour by administrators and staff.

To improve students’ access to their healthcare needs, the school should follow in the footsteps of colleges and universities like Stanford, Pomona and UC Davis, among others, and install vending machines that provide Plan B, condoms, tampons, Advil and other medical products that students may need access to when Parton Health Centre is closed. This is particularly relevant for emergency contraception which research shows is most often needed during weekends.

Finally, but most importantly, a school that aims to seriously tackle gender-based violence should promote the following:

Climate Surveys

Performing a campus climate survey yearly to recognize the extent of this problem. Climate surveys allow students to anonymously and candidly describe their experiences on campus and evaluate the effectiveness and access to the resources that the college makes available to them. This tool is the first step to effectively addressing gender-based violence on campus, and is championed by national organizations like Know Your IX.

Data Transparency

The school should maintain easily accessible statistics of gender-based violence,  extending beyond the limited Annual Security and Fire Safety Report mandated by the Department of Education under Title IX, which only go back three years. Furthermore, prints of such statistics and reports should be provided to incoming first-years during orientation.

Improving Bystander Training and Sexual Education

The sexual education offered to incoming freshmen is currently very cursory and brief. A more comprehensive sex-ed programme that addresses affirmative and enthusiastic consent, safe sex and healthy relationships (among other issues) more in depth is needed. The creation of said programme needs deep collaboration between students, faculty and staff but some of the points I would like to pursue include:

No first-year or incoming freshman should be allowed to receive ID or access to dorms without completing such a training course, and orientation should include more small group discussions on the issue sexual assault.

Group Therapy

Middlebury college, in partnership with the local organization WomenSafe, used to facilitate group therapy for survivors of gender-based violence. But this service was suspended due to “low-attendance.” As a SGA senator, I would like to pursue the reinstallation of this resource to better serve survivors.

Commit to Obama-era policies

Throughout this past summer, Betsy DeVoss’ Department of Education introduced significant changes to Title IX that reverse Obama era mandates — including the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which ordered universities to adjudicate sexual assault cases under the preponderance of the evidence standard. As a SGA senator I would urge the administration to commit to these Obama-era protections and standards, following in the footsteps of other colleges like Amherst.

Emergency Lights

Middlebury’s campus is spread out and can be quite dark at night. There should be more blue emergency phones located around campus to promote a more safe and comfortable environment.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Student Reflects on Surviving Sexual Assault”

  1. Marc Cardin on January 6th, 2018 7:46 pm

    Sorry David if you experienced sexual assault at another school. Your heart’s in the right place but you are terribly misinformed. There is a special place in hell for those who sexually assaults another person, but there is also a place reserved for those who would make a false claim. Look at the stats of sexual assault cases being filed at NESCAC schools, they have exploded since Obama issued the new Title IX mandate. How is it possible that we have over 40 cases per year when major universities like Michigan have less the 10 cases? Do we have more sexual predators? Absolutely not, but the preponderance of evidence allows for every and any frivolous claim to be filed. Let’s respect the dignity and rights of the very student. If you think otherwise, you don’t belong on SGA.




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Student Reflects on Surviving Sexual Assault