Penn State

Alumni petition Penn State to teach about sexual assault

CDT file photo

The Kappa Delta Rho scandal, in which one Penn State fraternity was found to have a secret Facebook page that allegedly documented illicit activity, raised a storm of attention and protest. Students, citizens, women’s groups and commenters have picketed, stood silently disapproving or loudly called for change, including those who want to see the Prospect Avenue chapter house closed down.

Now some Penn State alumni are pushing the administration to take a different action. They want Pennsylvania’s largest university to address the problem educationally.

We hereby call on Penn State administrators to implement comprehensive sexual assault education for all students,” reads a petition on Care2.com, an online “community of 26 million standing together for good.”

The request details its demands: consent education, bystander intervention training, support guidance and schooling on Title IX and Clery Act rights.

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 25,000 people had signed the petition.

“We thought that it was finally time to put some pressure on the administration and let them know that alumni are watching. We want them to step up and take some more concrete action,” said Julie Mastrine, a 2012 Penn State grad and Care2’s social media manager.

Mastrine created the petition with Madeline Chandler.

“As a Penn State alumna who wants to be an educator in feminist media studies, my undergraduate education is something I want to be proud of, not hide,” Chandler said in a statement. “It’s becoming normalized for sexual assault to be part of the college experience. Instead of constantly raising tuition, the administrators should be creating a culture of inclusion and safety.”

The petition’s creators say new students must participate in an alcohol education program when they come to campus. They say rape culture should be handled in a similar way.

Penn State seems to agree. It already has acknowledged the need for some of the steps the petition requests.

In January, President Eric Barron’s sexual assault and harassment task force returned a list of 18 recommendations for changes on campus. In addition to promoting and encouraging bystander intervention and requiring a first-year class on student well-being and safety, with an emphasis on building positive relationships and preventing sexual misconduct and alcohol misuse, the plans call for a Title IX coordinator position, switching to an investigative model for student sexual misconduct cases, additional mandatory education for employees and allocation of additional victim support resources.

Barron accepted those recommendations and announced plans for implementation in February.

“This petition reaffirms that the task force and its recommendations are the right path for Penn State to follow in addressing sexual violence. I just wish more people were aware of the 18 recommendations that will be carried out by Penn State. If this petition brings more attention to the troubling issue of sexual misconduct — it can also serve as an educational piece of the puzzle,” said university spokeswoman Lisa Powers.

Mastrine said she did not know about Penn State’s plans when she created the petition.

“I think that is a good first step. It would be great if they would move up the timeline and maybe get some input from alumni,” she said. “Recent alumni could really help. We are people who have recently been students and are now outside that culture. We really try to identify problems when you are a step removed. When you are in it, it’s kind of hard to see. But once you graduate, you’re out of the realm of input.”

Powers said she is happy to see more people addressing the issue.

“Putting a stop to sexual assault and sexual misconduct is a community effort, so we are glad that sexual misconduct is being taken seriously by those who are not only currently part of our community, but also those outside of our University community. It is encouraging to see people becoming active in voicing their desire to see sexual violence brought to an end. Every one must play a role and everyone should be aware and alert to ways to remain safe or to intervene and allow others to remain safe,” she said.

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