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College president and faculty discuss violence prevention and advocacy

Editor’s Note: This story contains mentions of sexual violence. A list of sexual assault reporting options and on-campus resources can be found on the Notre DameSaint Mary’s and Holy Cross websites.

On Monday night, the Saint Mary’s College community continued its ongoing discussion of sexual assault, violence prevention and advocacy with a panel of faculty for a question and answer session.

During the event, panelists included College President Katie Conboy, Liz Baumann, Iesha Miller, Sarah Granger, Kris Urschel and Phil Bambenek.

Megan Zwart, an associate professor and chair of the philosophy department, began the event with a discussion about productive dialogue. She explained this may be an emotional event for those involved but that “emotion helps us understand what matters to us.”

Zwart also emphasized that the purpose of this event and something to think about was “listening to understand rather than reply.”

Next, Kris Urschel, the director of Human Resources (HR) and Title IX coordinator at Saint Mary’s, gave a brief speech about the process of Title IX reporting.

“A big part of Title IX is the empowerment of the individual,” said said.

Urschel explained the different types of reporting, such as a formal report where an investigation and hearing are pursued. She also explained that whether an individual files a Title IX complaint at Saint Mary’s, University of Notre Dame or Holy Cross College, the Saint Mary’s Title IX office can still give help and support.

“In Title IX, we believe our students. It’s not my role to investigate, it is my job to believe students,” she noted.

Kris Urshel speaks on Title IX reporting at the College during an event on Monday night surrounding sexual assault and violence prevention.
Credit: Katelyn Waldschmidt / The Observer

After Urshel’s commentary, the panel was opened to a question and answer session, with questions from both the audience and anonymous text messages. A wide variety of questions were asked, one of the first being about health options offered for victims of assault.

Sarah Granger, the director of Health & Counseling Center at Saint Mary’s, talked about how the center offers STD testing to all students. Director of the Office of Student Involvement & Advocacy (OSIA), Liz Baumann added that the Family Justice Center is available for needs that students feel Saint Mary’s may fall short of.

The Family Justice Center is a help center for victims of most types of abuse and has a 24/7 hotline specific to St. Joesph County. They can offer assistance such as trained advocates or transportation to hospitals. 

Phil Bambenek, director of campus safety, touched on some physical aspects of student safety. He discussed tentative plans on including more card readers to help limit access to outsiders.

Additionally, he explained that while residence halls are not monitored for student privacy, entrances and exits are heavily monitored. He emphasized the importance of reporting, saying “We respond to all complaints” and “If someone calls, we go and investigate.” 

The idea that the faculty cannot offer help in circumstances that they are not aware of was brought up by multiple panelists throughout the night.

Many audience members spoke up about various issues they were concerned about, but panelists continued throughout encouraging students to report instances of harassment and abuse.

The discussion also touched on what options there are for students who are willing to come forward to help remove their abuser from their life and campus. Bambenek said that no trespassing orders are available for if the perpetrator has no reason to be on Saint Mary’s campus grounds and that the Title IX office assists student with that type of request.

The night ended with a thank you from the two clubs sponsoring the event, Belles Supporting Belles and Student Government Association (SGA).

Contact Katelyn at kwaldschmidt01@saintmarys.edu.

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Police investigating two reports of sexual assault connected to off-campus party

The St. Joseph County Police Department is investigating two instances of sexual assault reported last weekend, according to an email from the Saint Mary’s campus safety department.

Phil Bambenek, the College’s director of the campus safety department, said in the email the assaults appear to be connected to at least one student party that occurred Friday night and Saturday morning at University Edge Apartments.

The email said one of the instances of sexual assault occurred when a student was coerced into a sexual act but then did not explicitly consent to any further activity.

The details of the second reported assault are unclear but it appears to be connected to the same University Edge student party, the email said.

Bambenek went on to give more information on what constitutes sexual assault and the definition of consent.

“Anyone initiating any kind of sexual contact with another person must seek consent and not engage in sexual contact unless consent is given,” he wrote. “‘Consent’ means informed, freely given agreement, communicated by clearly understandable words or actions, to participate in each form of sexual activity. Consent cannot be inferred from silence, passivity, or lack of active resistance.’”

A person who is incapacitated is unable to give consent, Bambenek added. The email requested any witnesses to contact the police department at (574) 235-9611 to assist in the investigation.