By Anna Liss-Roy ‘20
On Thursday, August 30 at Claremont McKenna College, a sexual assault seminar was held after the CMS athletic convocation. It was open for female athletes only. The seminar ran approximately 45 minutes long, although around 15 students reportedly stayed for an additional 20-30 minutes to speak with CMC Title IX Coordinator Nyree Gray, who was running it.
The seminar was a joint effort by Ms. Gray and softball coach Betsy Hipple, who are both on the Title IX committee. It was the first of its kind, conceived with the goal of educating Hipple’s softball players on sexual assault, but was eventually opened up to all female CMS athletes in order to foster a sense of community within teams and the Athena community as a whole.
Timing was key for Gray and Hipple, who purposely scheduled the seminar early in the semester in anticipation of “the Red Zone,” the first six weeks of school when rates of sexual assault are especially high, especially at CMC where rates are already higher than the national average (6.8 per thousand students in 2014, compared to the national average of 6.1 per thousand).
“Rarely do we, just as women, get together and talk about issues that concern us,” Gray said, who ran the seminar without coaches present in order to encourage honest conversation. “Although we do what we can during orientation, we thought it would be a good time to get all the female athletes together to not just talk about [sexual assault], but to really talk about, like, how do we support each other? And are there issues that you guys are facing that we should be responsive to?”
“My hope was that Ms. Gray would open a conversation and create a safe space,” Hipple said.The seminar was envisioned as a sanctuary to share concerns, an opportunity for experienced team members to mentor their first year counterparts, a chance to connect early as an extra resource to athletes. But the seminar was not announced until the end of convocation, and some felt it was underemphasized for the male athletes.
“It was just such a “by-the-way” thing...the point of the talk was to acknowledge the importance of [sexual assault], yet it felt devalued at the same time because of the way it was brought up with the group before the guys left,” said one first year CMS athlete.
“The girls have to go to another meeting, and you [male athletes] can leave. Like, you’re free.” another freshman CMS athlete said. Frustration stemmed not only from the introduction, but also from some of the responses from audience members.
“At the end of convocation, everyone stands up and starts walking out of Roberts, and one guy was like, ‘have fun talking about rape!’ So that’s the message that the rest of the people got,” a CMS freshman athlete said.
Both athletes who expressed frustration noted that they would not have been angry if male athletes had had a separate sexual assault seminar during the same time period. There was, however, a mandatory seminar last spring, in which male athletes discussed ideas of masculinity, responsibility, and ideas of their own actions. Despite this, neither Hipple nor Gray could confirm a specialized seminar opportunity for this year’s male athletes, other than the sexual assault discussions that took place for all students during orientation week.
“We are already in the process of clarifying the path we’re going to take with male student athletes,” Hipple said. “This is a multi-pronged, multifaceted initiative to initiate male student athletes and men, female student athletes and women.”
“Just as when we say black lives matter, it doesn’t mean all lives don’t matter, it really means black lives matter too,” Hipple said. “So addressing female scholar athletes does not mean we were not also going to address male scholar athletes. So, for there to be sort of a pushback, like hey what about the guys, I think we expected.”
Some students, in fact, were supportive.
“I would absolutely recommend this seminar to first years,” freshman CMS athlete Alison Jue said. “In fact, I would advocate for first years to be broken up into smaller groups so that way the conversation could be more engaging and more intimate instead of a large lecture that we had this year.”
Despite some resistance to the lecture, Hipple said she is not discouraged.
“If this prevents one sexual assault, I’ll be happy” Hipple said. “I anticipate we’ll do it again.”