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Saturday, Dec 27, 2014

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OHIO community embraces Campus Conversation

Follow-up discussion scheduled for Nov. 18


Members of the Ohio University community spent Thursday afternoon engaged in constructive conversation about some very serious but all too often not discussed topics.

"Campus Conversation: Sexual Assault, Consent, and Bystander Intervention" was held Thursday from noon to 4 p.m. in the Main Reception room near Nelson Court. Designed to provide a safe place for people to ask questions, raise concerns and educate themselves and others about these and other topics, the event saw steady attendance throughout the afternoon.

"I was very proud of Ohio University today because undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff and community members came together to talk honestly about sexual assault, consent and bystander intervention and a host of related issues, including the relationship between sexual assault and alcohol," said David Descutner, dean of University College and associate provost for undergraduate studies.

Descutner spent the entire afternoon at the event, serving as a facilitator at one of the event's more popular tables, the "open conversation" table.

The event was organized in "world café" style, with participants able to come and go as their schedules and interests allowed. Tables dedicated to specific topics or groups were set up throughout the room. Among those topics were healthy sexualities, policy (sexual assault/misconduct definitions and existing policy), victim blaming, sexual assault, masculinity/power, consent, bystander intervention and outreach to the community.

Each table was equipped with handouts setting the ground rules for the day's confidential conversations as well as information on intervention strategies and tips for better bystander intervention or behavior. Each table was also assigned a facilitator whose role was to aid in the conversation and answer questions pertaining to the afternoon's topics.

At Descutner's table, students shared their experiences with sexual assault, the role alcohol plays in sexual situations, the difficulties they've had when it comes to intervening in their friends' behavior and double standards when it comes to sexual encounters.

"I think today's conversations, based on what happened at my table, were a fruitful start to what I hope will be a successful effort to educate students about sexual assault, why consent is important to understand and receive, the need to consider pursuing a healthy sexuality that is not connected to alcohol, why men must be made aware of their role in preventing sexual assault and challenging the objectification of women, and why all students should understand their obligations as bystanders," Descutner said.

In addition to sharing their thoughts through the event's group discussions, those attending the Campus Conversation were invited to share their feelings and suggestions on poster boards located throughout the room.

One of the comments suggested having individuals on Court Street who can help, not police, students. Another note suggested posting signs at local bars that contain an "advocates for consent" type of message. Another note simply read: "This is a really great idea, and I appreciate that there are going to be more of these. Thanks."

Information gathered at Thursday's event will be used to generate topics for follow-up events.

"I think it's going really well," Sarah Jenkins, program coordinator for OHIO's Women's Center and LGBT Center, said of Thursday's event. "Many of those who have attended today's event have expressed appreciation for this event, and we already have plans for the next one."

The "Campus Conversation: Sexual Assault, Consent, and Bystander Intervention" follow-up discussion will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18, in Baker University Center Ballroom B.

"I think it went really well today. People came eager to share, willing to listen and wanting to make a difference. It was a day of spirited and kind conversation," said Susanne Dietzel, director of the Women's Center. "I hope they leave here today having found a language or the tools to talk to some of their friends who weren't here today but who have been equally exposed to this culture."