Sexual assault should not be part of the college experience. Unfortunately, it is an overwhelmingly common occurrence on college campuses across the country, and it often goes drastically underreported. On Tuesday, September 20, ENMU students spoke out against this disheartening phenomenon at an emergency student concerns forum.
The Associated Students of Eastern New Mexico University (ASENMU) held the emergency forum to allow ENMU students who have been sexually assaulted a place to express their concerns about campus safety and sexual assault awareness.
“Our message tonight is to show the state of New Mexico that the student body of Eastern New Mexico University is and will take a stand against sexual assault on college campuses,” said ENMU Vice President Joshua Alvarez.
Students who have been victims of sexual assault addressed the senate with their concerns by speaking about their experiences at the meeting.
Student Rhiannon Barela, was assaulted two months ago by another student. Barela said that she desired to create a culture of support on campus for those affected by sexual assault.
“I want your willingness to help see a change here. I’m here tonight to let you know that it can happen anywhere to anyone at any time. I thought I could do it on my own. I don’t want your sympathy. I don’t want your pity. I want your support,” said Barela. “You’re not a statistic. We’re not a statistic. Don’t call me a victim. Don’t call me a survivor. I’m an initiator of change, and I will do everything that I have to do to make sure that I see that.”
Marina Merritt also spoke about the issue of sexual assault on campus, standing up to her attacker and for survivors who are “unable to stand up for themselves.”
“It doesn’t matter what you were wearing, if you were drinking, or if you said yes before. No still means no. I don’t care if I have to tell my story to the entire country. I will not stop until no actually means no,” said Merritt.
In 2014, The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released a horrifying statistic: one in five college students experience sexual assault during their college years.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), 80 percent of victims of sexual assault know the offender personally. It is estimated that for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year. All too often, these incidents are extremely underreported. More than 90 percent of sexual assault victims across university campuses do not report the assault.
ASENMU senators discussed the possibility of installing “blue light” phones on campus that connect directly to campus police.
Barela told Portales News Tribune after the meeting that the forum was a sign of improvement toward creating awareness and safety on campus.
“With this [meeting], they’re taking the steps necessary to do the right thing,” said Barela. “If I have to carry the burden so someone else won’t have to then I will. People need to know that it is a very real thing. It’s important to speak out and show support.”
With the conclusion of the meeting, ENMU President Tim Harris urged all students to come to ASENMU with any issues they may have.
“We’re here for you if you have any concerns,” Harris said. “These are all your senators. Say something.”
ENMU student Caitlin Pinkleton wrote a public letter regarding Tuesday’s meeting, concluding that she believed the meeting was handled “very poorly”.
“It is incredibly important for these stories to be told and heard, but no, this was not an effective discussion,” said Pinkleton, stating she felt there was not enough time dedicated to the matter during the meeting.
“I have not spoken with ASENMU directly because I feel it necessary for everyone to be a part of the conversation, not just me. I would not want to have a conversation regarding this matter with anyone behind closed doors,” said Pinkleton.
“I have received an incredible response to the piece I wrote from both ASENMU members as well as students via email,” said Pinkleton. “The Facebook page I created, 'People Against Rape ENMU' is gaining members as we speak and both students and a Senate member have made comments and suggestions as to how to address this issue with the 'higher-ups' of the ENMU institution as well as ideas for effective prevention against rape on campus. We are actively discussing all aspects of the topic in real time, publicly.”
Pinkleton says that the main goal of her paper was to gain attention to the issue itself to facilitate change and improvement toward sexual assault awareness and prevention on the ENMU campus.
“The paper was truly a group effort. However, I was willing to put my name on it and claim responsibility because I feel that I am capable of handling any issues that may arise as a result of the paper,” Pinkleton said. “Most importantly, if I or anyone can help to change the culture of rape on college campuses, we should, and we shouldn't be afraid to.”
A Question and Answer forum and follow up response meeting to Tuesday’s concerns forum took place on Monday, September 26th in the CUB Ballroom with ENMU’s Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Long in attendance in order to allow students more time to address the matter.
For tips and suggestions on ways to improve your safety on campus, visit https://www.rainn.org/news/8-tips-stay-safe-you-head-campus-fall.
If you have a question, comment, idea, or suggestion regarding sexual assault awareness on the ENMU campus, contact ASENMU via the Campus Life Office (room 104) of the Campus Union Building, or call 575.562.2108.