Faculty starts grassroots organization to combat sexual violence

A grassroots organization has sprung up on Concordia’s campus that welcomes faculty and staff who share a desire for a community free of sexual violence.

The group, founded by faculty members Laurie Dahley, Susan Larson and Elna Solvang, refers to itself as Employees Against Rape or Employees Advocating Respectful Sexual Situations (EAR).

“To change a culture you can’t just name a demon, you have to identify the positive,” Laurie Dahley, assistant professor of social work, said. “What is our community going to look like? Not simply what we don’t want it to be.”

Sexual assault on college campuses has been a controversial national topic, especially within the last couple years. Under components of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, colleges must address and eliminate sexual violence and harassment on campus. Over 90 higher education institutions are currently under pending federal investigation due to the way they have handled sexual violence.

Concordia’s sexual misconduct policy explains how Concordia responds to reports of sexual misconduct. It also defines consent, non-consensual sexual intercourse and touching and sexual exploitation. The full policy can be found on Concordia’s website.

But policy alone cannot eliminate sexual violence. The grassroots organization is hoping to influence culture.

Larson, a professor of psychology, said the organization’s goals are evolving. But the group wants to be a support to the policymakers on campus.

“EAR’s role is to support, encourage, mobilize, advocate,” Dahley said.

A goal is for community members to recognize that everyone has a role to play in transforming culture and eliminating sexual violence.

“It takes a commitment from everyone to declare it’s not going to happen here,” Dahley said.

Adam Copeland, a religion instructor and Concordia’s Director of Theological Inquiry, said he hopes the group can help foster a community that moves beyond a reactionary state when lines are crossed and is proactive in cultivating a healthy community.

Dahley hopes to increase EAR’s presence within the campus community.

“You don’t change a culture by having 20 people sitting in a room talking,” Dahley said.

You change a culture, she said, by getting into the community and “building momentum.”

EAR was partly inspired by Faculty Against Rape, a national organization dedicated to faculty involvement in sexual assault issues on campus and protection for faculty members who experience retaliation for their involvement. The organization provides resources for faculty to support student survivors. It also pursues campus reform efforts and provides support for faculty who face administrative retaliation from activism.

Because numerous staff members also work directly with students, the Concordia grassroots effort involves staff as well as faculty. When an interest meeting for the group was held in September, many faculty and staff expressed concern that they were unaware of how to respond when they heard about sexual violence. At that time, the professional speaker Mike Domitrz came to campus and addressed this concern by discussing responses. He talked about being an open and supportive listener and acknowledging the courage it takes to come forward with sexual assault concerns.

EAR meets monthly and examines the issue of sexual violence through a different lens each month. Past topics of discussion have included Concordia’s sexual assault policy, what other groups on campus are doing about the issue, and whether Concordia plays a unique role as a church-affiliated school. So far, an average of 15 to 30 people have shown up to each meeting.

“When an assault happens, our world is shaken,” Dahley said.

But, she added, a community can piece that world back together.

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