Prior to the 2017-2018 school year, the Sexual Safety and Support Alliance (S3A) served as one of the primary resources to prevent sexual assault and support survivors at Kalamazoo College. Rumors of S3A’s disbandment, which surfaced as early as January 2017, came as a surprise to many students and faculty members. When the official announcement was made a few months later, the College reassured the campus community that another student organization with similar goals — the Sexual Peer Education Alliance at K (SPEAK) — would take its place. Yet as the fall term comes to a close, SPEAK’s resources still have yet to be accessible to the student body, leaving a gap in sexual assault education and support resources on campus.
Ellen Lassiter Collier, the Director of Gender Equity, has overseen the development of SPEAK, a program which identifies “peer education” as its primary goal. Sabrina Leddy ‘19, a current member of SPEAK, explained that this education pertains to proactive prevention “through [seminars to address] a variety of issues including consent and sexual assault, healthy and unhealthy relationships, masculinity, sex education and more extensive Title IX training.”
While SPEAK’s mission is similar to that of its predecessor, its methods are different; the new organization has stepped away from offering direct peer-to-peer crisis support services. “You can’t ask peers to do a trained therapist or counselor’s job,” Hannah Jeung ‘20, another member of SPEAK, said. “That’s not our place, and unfortunately, things were handled very poorly [in S3A].” In lieu of student support, YWCA staff are available for drop-in hours on campus four hours per week.
S3A also supported students with sexual health resources, a function that is missing under SPEAK. S3A members sold emergency contraceptive and pregnancy tests to students at discounted prices, and were available outside of regular Health Center hours. Earlier this year, Lassiter Collier informed students that the Student Health Center was in the process of developing a new student group to serve as a sexual health resource, but no progress on this group has been reported.
Members are optimistic about the future of SPEAK, but some students are frustrated with S3A’s sudden disbandment and the new organization’s relative silence this year. SPEAK was not ready for the start of the school year, which greeted one of the largest first-year classes in college history. “Having a place where students can go to feel heard and have support is crucial,” Erin Butler ‘18 said. “Without S3A, there have to be other ways for students to find that support.”
Students also expressed concern regarding SPEAK’s lack of recognizability. “I think that disbanding S3A entirely was a mistake,” Savannah Kinchen ‘18 said. “S3A was such a recognizable resource on campus, the name was so widely known, I’m not sure what the benefit of renaming it is.” Kinchen feels that concerns with S3A could have been addressed through internal, structural changes while preserving the organization’s high visibility on campus. A search of the College website reveals many broken links to S3A resources, and few to no references to SPEAK. The Title IX Resources web page does not have information about YWCA on-campus drop-in hours, and instead simply states “contact information TBA.”
When asked about the delay in SPEAK’s institution, Leddy cited a “time crunch.” The decision to dismantle S3A was made earlier last spring, she said. “And for reasons I’m not entirely clear on, the institution decided it would be best as an immediate process.”
Jeung agreed that SPEAK’s slow development has been a problem. “It’s certainly not as prepared as I personally would have hoped,” she admitted. “I know there was communication over the summer, but I think with people’s schedules, they weren’t able to meet as much as they wanted.”
For Lassiter Collier’s part, she is working to ensure that the members of SPEAK are well-trained on how to educate the community. “I develop the training program … SPEAK students will be trained to facilitate,” Lassiter Collier said. “All of the SPEAK students and I meet weekly in order to do ground work and planning for the group. They also advise me on ways other Title IX programming can be most relevant to our student body.”
“SPEAK is currently in the development phase,” Lassiter Collier explained. “There are currently six students part of the group, and we are working this semester to identify others who have a valuable voice to add to our conversations and programming. At the beginning of winter quarter, SPEAK members will go through a training that will focus on topics such as Title IX, confidential support services, and more. The goal is to have them be able to facilitate workshops for the campus community on such topics.”
“At the moment, we’re creating our own workshops/seminars … These services will be available to any group of students or faculty that requests a workshop, whether it be a residence hall, class, student organization, peer leaders, athletic team, etc.,” Leddy said. “SPEAK is also working very closely with the Green Dot committee on campus, boosting awareness about the importance of bystander intervention in the elimination of power-based violence.”
In the meantime, SPEAK has also been working on diversifying as a group in order to support the wide variety of identities and experiences on campus. According to Jeung, the initial applicants to the program were almost all “white, economically-privileged women.”
“[This] isn’t necessarily bad, but obviously we need more diversity than that,” Jeung said. “We are trying to reach different demographics … We currently have five of us, and we are constantly on the search and our hope is that by winter quarter we will have a board of 10-12 people with highly different approaches to sexual education issues.” SPEAK has also reached out to a variety of student organizations on campus, asking for their suggestions in the development of this educative body for campus, as well as to seek members who come from more diverse backgrounds.
Even with the delays in SPEAK’s conception, both Leddy and Jeung seek to make it clear that those within the program, especially Lassiter Collier, have been working hard on its development.
“I would argue that more work was done directly following the cessation of S3A’s activities than the campus is aware of,” Leddy said. “I know that Ellen did a lot of work this summer coordinating with advocacy services, setting up confidential resources, and brainstorming ideas for our role as students in peer education.”
Jeung sympathizes with Lassiter Collier’s position, emphasizing that she is currently trying to perform “two jobs,” acting as both the Director of Gender Equity, and a de facto director for LGBTQA+ issues on campus while the school seeks a permanent candidate for such a position. For this reason, Jeung says, no one should “put the blame” on her. “I have a lot of faith in Ellen, and I have a lot of faith in SPEAK,” she said.
Both Leddy and Jeung claim that SPEAK plans to be out in full-force in the winter term, though they have not identified a precise timeline. And though SPEAK is not currently available in terms of educational sessions, members are able to direct anyone with needs or questions towards confidential services. According to Lassiter Collier, “The Counseling Center, Chaplain, and Student Health Center [are] confidential resources on campus … an advocate from the YWCA is providing on-campus hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3-5 p.m. The Dean of Students Office is another location many students reach out to when they have experienced sexual misconduct. Finally, hearing reports of sexual misconduct is my primary duty. Individuals can report to me via email or phone, by stopping by office at 212 Upjohn, or via the online reporting form.”