On Friday, Feb. 10, representatives from organizations and offices on Vassar’s campus assembled in the College Center MPR to educate students about sexual assault safety, awareness and solidarity resources. Vassar’s organization Yes for Equality and Safety of All Bodies (YES!) coordinated this informational event. According to YES!, at least 153 reported acts of sexual violence have occurred on Vassar’s campus in the last four years. Despite this, the College has only suspended five students and expelled five in connection with these acts of violence.
Students founded YES! in 2016 to promote safety and solidarity on campus. Its name gives voice to those who were denied their right to consent in the past. As its mission statement describes, “The situations we are fighting against are those in which some of us or our friends were unable to say no or our no was ignored. In our efforts to prevent sexual assault, we say yes to safety for all students. We say yes to a sexual assault-free campus.”
Darci Siegel ’20, a member of YES! and a Women’s Center intern, said that YES! organized the fair to make students aware of the numerous resources available to them. The fair specifically wanted to reach first-years, who may not know what each organization does. Siegel commented, “The goal of this event is to educate students about the resources on this campus. A lot of people, especially freshmen, may have heard of CHOICE or SAVP, but might not understand what they mean. This fair helps people know the faces behind the organizations and lets the organizations be as transparent as possible.”
Chocolate chip cookies and Swiss Miss hot chocolate awaited students at the fair’s entrance. Once inside, students were free to wander to any and all of the resource booths. Most organizations had pamphlets for them to take, along with treats such as Oreos, tortilla chips and candy bars.
Vassar’s Sexual Assault and Violence Prevention program (SAVP) provided a unique opportunity for students to discuss consent. In their “Red-Light, Green-Light, Yellow-Light” game, a SAVP representative read a consent-related scenario and asked students to categorize it as either red-light, green-light or yellow-light. There were no wrong answers and the SAVP leaders had participants defend their choices. After listening to their peers, many revised their answers, realizing something that they had not considered before.
The Office of Health Education also provided an interactive activity. It asked students to brainstorm qualities that make them feel safe in a relationship. Students wrote their answers on a poster decorated with construction paper hearts. Representatives from the Office of Health Education said that it will either hang in the second floor of the College Center or in the Office, so students can read it as they await their appointments.
Several offices and organizations used the fair to highlight their new programs and initiatives. Constanca Vescio, staff therapist at Metcalf House, provided students with information about Phoenix Rising, her support group for survivors of sexual trauma. According to the flyer she handed out, “The goal of this group is to provide a safe, healing, and empowering space for survivors to discuss their experiences.” The Phoenix, the symbol for the group, is a bird known for its strength, beauty and experience of rebirth. Vescio’s flyer states that it is supposed to represent the strength, courage and resilience of survivors.
The Listening Center (TLC), a peer-run support group, also announced a new program. Trained Vassar students will now respond to posts on the therapy website 7 Cups of Tea from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. Students can sign up to anonymously chat with a Vassar listener on the site through TLC. They can also use the site during non-designated hours. During these times, however, they will communicate not with Vassar students but other volunteers.
Throughout the fair, organizations stressed the resources available to students of all identities. A representative from the ALANA Center described how the Center is always available for students to come and discuss their problems. They commented, “The ALANA Center is a center for students of color. Although it is not specifically dedicated to issues of sexual assault or sexual violence, students can come and talk about any issues that they are having. Wendy Maragh Taylor, the Center’s director, is an excellent resource.”
Several organizations offered specific resources for LGBTQ-identifying students as well. The LGBTQ center, TransMission and the Vassar Queer Health Initiative (VQHI) provided information for LGBTQ survivors and about relationships in the transgender community. In addition, VQHI highlighted LGBT+ inclusive STI testing that it offered on Saturday, Feb. 11. Hudson Valley Community Services provided the testing and it was free and confidential for students.
Other organizations and offices at the fair included the Campus Health Organization for Information, Contraception, and Education (CHOICE), the Title IX Office, CARES, and the Women’s Center. Siegel spoke about her role as a Women’s Center intern and some of the projects she has participated in. She stated, “My work in the Women’s Center has focused on sexual assault prevention, awareness and solidarity. I worked on the Take Back the Night Rally last October. The Women’s Center wants to do a lot of work for women and women-identifying people on this campus…We are always trying to pump out different programming.”
As for her goals for this event, Siegel hoped that it would be both reassuring and inspiring. She commented, “I hope that students find support and solidarity at this fair. I hope the having all of the resources in the room builds a big sense of community. I hope that those who come are inspired to take action. Vassar is already such a wonderful activist campus, but we can do better.”