Sedgwick protests university sexual assault prevention guide
Senior decision science major Tonya Sedgwick delivered a speech on Friday in front of Warner Hall expressing dissatisfaction with Decisions That Matter, a university publication regarding sexual assault, as well as a quote by Dean of Student Affairs Gina Casalegno printed in a Tartan news article responding to a Letter to the Editor signed by 35 past and current students, including Sedgwick.
On Sept. 12, Casalegno emailed the campus community enumerating the initiatives relating to sexual harassment and sexual violence that the university has established over the past year or plans to establish. Among the completed initiatives listed is the development of Decisions That Matter. Casalegno states in the email that the purpose of the publication is “to educate the university community about your rights, resources, and responsibilities regarding sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.”
Sedgwick, speaking at approximately 4 p.m. through a megaphone and standing on a barrier in front of Warner Hall, said, “I’ve come before you today in an act of solidarity with my fellow students, some of whom have suffered not only at the hands of sexual predators, but also at the hands of university officials. This problem, which is not localized to Carnegie Mellon, nor to Pittsburgh, but to all of the United States of America and beyond, is one that has garnered recent attention from the White House and elsewhere.”
Sedgwick told a story about a boy she grew up with and his unwelcome advances (“attempting to convince me to have sex with him”). She said that when she told her friends she didn’t want to hang out with him in a group setting, her friends told her to stop “bashing” the boy — “as if saying ‘he tried to bully me into having sex with him’ was the same as slandering someone.”
She then said, “I want to talk to you, my fellow students, about Decisions That Matter, because the pamphlet that has been written under that name got it wrong.”
Sedgwick said that the pamphlet does not discourage perpetrators from committing acts of sexual violence nor outline consequences of these acts, but rather provides information telling people what actions to take to protect themselves from the potential of an assault.
“It is not the decisions of all of us that matter,” Sedgwick said, referring to the quote made by Casalegno published in The Tartan last week. “It is the decisions of those who have power that matter. In a situation where someone is a perpetrator, and someone is a victim, the perpetrator has all the power.”
Sedgwick said to those listening that people have a duty to act, “to speak up and say ‘Hey, that’s not okay — she asked you to stop.’ ”
“The most important person who can prevent sexual violence is you, and I want you to know it, and I want you to live it, and I want the university to give you the tools to do so,” she concluded.
Sedgwick asked if others would like to comment at the end of the speech, to which sophomore creative writing major Nathalie Kent said, “You said it well.”
Sedgwick later told The Tartan, “I think that it was important [to give the speech] because there were a lot of people who were upset or seemed upset with the pamphlet and other things relating to the pamphlet, but no one really was doing anything, and I believe that if you want to enforce change-making, that you should offer advice, but you should also make sure that people know — that people care about this.”
Casalegno attended the speech and, at its conclusion, spoke with Sedgwick, sitting with her on the barrier upon which the speech was delivered.
“I really appreciate that Tonya had the courage to step up in front of all of these people and share her own story and her thoughts about how we, as an institution, can do better in this regard,” Casalegno said. “We’ll only get better as an institution by people coming forward and talking about these issues and sharing their thoughts and their perspectives.”
Casalegno said that she was told about the speech by several students and “cleared my schedule to make sure that I could be here both to hear and listen, and also interact with other students who care about these issues.”
Casalegno also said that she discussed the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) with Sedgwick. Casalegno mentioned to The Tartan that the university amended a section of the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report last week based on resources about risk reduction education provided by RAINN, which describes itself as an anti-sexual assault organization. The 2014 guide is due to the campus by Wednesday, according to Casalegno.
The Annual Security and Fire Safety Report contains information about the university’s fire and safety policies and other resources for students. The 2013 report contained a section titled “Preventing and Responding to Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault.”
Junior directing major John Moriarty said of the speech, “I thought it was a great avenue for people who are concerned about sexual assault at Carnegie Mellon and elsewhere to be able to have their voices heard. I think it is a testament to the school how many people stopped and watched, but also how many people walked by.”
“We are not a politically active campus, and that is very, very evident when it comes to this issue that is so close to us, that affects everyone, men and women,” Moriarty added. “Tonya gives light and shows that there are students who do care, and the louder they are the more likely others will feel comfortable to stand up.”
Moriarty is creating a docudrama about how Carnegie Mellon and other colleges across the country have been handling sexual assault and rape cases, and the dialogues between students and faculty, focusing specifically on consequences for aggressors. Moriarty said he is pushing for clearer and harsher lines for aggressors, rather than case-by-case considerations.
“The current system that the school employs relies on the students’ trust in the administration and trust that the investigations are based in the students’ best interest,” he said. “And after hearing stories from my friends and reading about Gabrielle in the lawsuit filed, I have lost that trust. It’s something each student has to make a decision on and inform themselves [about] in the months to come as these allegations are being investigated.”
The speech took place during a week when the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) hosted Title IX focus group sessions on campus.
The OCR conducted both group and individual sessions with campus members as part of a review of “the University’s policies and practices related to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972,” according to an email sent to campus members by Casalegno. Focus group sessions and individual meetings were hosted from Wednesday to Friday. Campus members were invited to various sessions based upon certain groups they affiliate themselves with, including but not limited to staff, faculty, resident assistants, athletes, and male or female undergraduate students.
Title IX is a section of the 1972 Education Amendments that prohibits sex discrimination in education. On May 1, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges and universities that it is currently investigating, including Carnegie Mellon, for possible mishandlings of sexual assault and related complaints.
Other notable universities on the list include Princeton University, Pennsylvania State University, and Dartmouth College.