How it’s going: An update on the Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative (deadline Mar. 13!)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

“Join the Conversation.”  This is what the Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative poster urges.  Hopefully you have seen it on College Walk or in buildings around campus. With a handful of days left before spring break—and the March 13 deadline for the Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative—I thought I would use this blog post to add to this conversation with some updates and thoughts about how the Initiative is going.

For starters, I want to remind you that the Sexual Respect Initiative is one part of a broader University-wide focus on what it means to be a member of the Columbia University community. A central aim of this particular initiative is to encourage learning, thought and action on the link between sexual respect and community membership here.

So far, student response—in workshops, the arts, and all other options has been impressive and inspiring. Thousands of students across the University have attended workshops, trainings, and film screenings through student organizations, academic departments, and sessions listed on CourseWorks, with many more to come this week.

More than 200 submissions have come in through the Arts Option, which invites students to creatively express their understanding of “sexual respect” in the context of Columbia. The submissions are quite extraordinary –thought-provoking poetry, prose, visual art, plays, video, and more, accompanied by deeply thoughtful statements about what motivates or underlies the work.

We see the same in the serious thought and care given to reflections submitted as part of the “video and reflection” option. I just finished reading a large set of de-identified reflections and am impressed, again, by the profound ways in which so many students are considering the role of sexual respect in their own lives at Columbia. In the coming weeks, we will post faculty members’ responses to these reflections as another part of continuing this conversation.

For some students, complaints about the initiative have been the path to engagement, prompting important conversations about what sexual respect has to do with community citizenship at all.

Many students have told me, and shared with other faculty members too, that they went into workshops or watched videos thinking this was just something to get through.  Yet whether it was facts presented in a workshop, anecdotes in a TED Talk, or examples of bystander intervention in a "Step Up" training or the "Who Are You?" video, something shifted and they became more personally invested in helping create a culture of prevention.   

Dissent, at its best, is yet another path to engagement. For me, it is especially exciting to see dissent inspire creation, as has happened repeatedly though students proposing ideas for new workshops, becoming trained as facilitators, and creating new forms of art that might be used to educate and engage others.

The Initiative provides many additional ways for students to weigh in, add suggestions, and make recommendations. Every student receives an evaluation survey after completing the “affirmation of participation” on CourseWorks, and the Sexual Respect website invites your narrative comments.

Hundreds of evaluations have already come in, and these will be used, along with research on learning theory, sexual violence prevention and more, to develop future programming. Wonderfully, too, many students have indicated that they want to become more involved; if you are interested, please share your contact information on the otherwise anonymous evaluation form.

I could go on, but in the interest of time, I will close by referring back to this Initiative’s core principle:

This initiative focuses on the ways in which an ethic of sexual respect is integral to University community membership. The programming and public conversations place the University's core commitment to mutual respect alongside other bedrock University commitments, including intellectual exchange and ethical leadership. Through your engagement, both in thought and action, we can create a community and campus in which all can participate freely and fully in the robust, pluralistic life of this great University.

I look forward to your participation.


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