Consent Week At SMC


Shoulder to shoulder, red and blue t-shirts hung from a clothesline stretching across the line of palm trees down Santa Monica College’s main quad. It looked cluttered. Craft paint carelessly embellished the shirts, with words branded onto them that were indiscernible until you could get close enough to read them. One, in bright orange glue, read “I was 11 years old, you fucking bastard.”

These decorations served as a backdrop to performing poets on Tuesday April 25, 2017, where the AS hosted “Break the Silence,” an open mic event honoring Consent Week on campus. A minuscule crowd gathered around to listen as poets performed in front of the clothesline, which featured shirts designed by SMC students who survived incidents of sexual assault.

“Don’t you know that your rapist is more likely to be a familiar face in the household rather than a bearded man living in the middle of the woods?” Justine Ramos, one of the poets, asked the crowd of people that circled around her.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, less than half of rape or sexual assaults were reported in 2015. The lack of reporting one’s own sexual assault stems from the victim either intimately knowing the one who assaulted them or the fear of law enforcement not believing them.

Events like Consent Week at SMC serve to break the stigma that survivors of sexual abuse may face. However, as students rushed down the quad overlooking most of the Break the Silence event, one can see why many seem to stay silent about their experiences – why the makers of the t-shirt display may choose to stay anonymous.

The AS also hosted “Denim Day,” an event raising sexual assault awareness, by providing shirts on display for students to compose their messages on, high heels for men to walk around in, and a photo op with SMC President Kathryn Jeffery at the quad on Wednesday, April 28. Women wore denim jackets and jeans while men balanced themselves on high heels to commemorate the annual event held all around the world. Denim Day originated from protests that sparked in 1992 when the Italian Supreme Court overturned a rape conviction with the justification that the victim, wearing tight jeans, could not have taken them off without giving consent.

The controversial rape case from 1992 was an example of the issues that AS Commissioner Isabel Castillo wanted to address when she organized Denim Day at SMC. According to Castillo, nearly 1 in 10 women are sexually assaulted in college campuses. As a sexual assault survivor, she wanted these events to “put a face to the myriad of statistics about sexual assault. Because when you read about sexual assault, it’s hard to realize it’s a person.”

Excitement became palpable throughout the crowd when SMC President Jeffery joined the event to take photos with the students. When asked about her thoughts on raising awareness of sexual assault, President Jeffery emphasized that these events resonate far beyond the confines of the campus. “We have to work on big issues like sexual assault because we have students… not just from Santa Monica, they’re from all over the world, so they can take this awareness from here in the college into their own communities,” she says.

Consent Week events came to a close on Thursday, April 27 with an event titled “Take Back the Night,” where students gathered in the Cayton Center, transforming it into a space to break the silence on sexual assault.

The final event began with an open screening of “Through the Hunting Ground,” a documentary focusing on the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and how two women fought to share the stories of survivors around the nation, as well as their own.

The evening closed with a small group discussion lead by Isabel Castillo, where students voiced their thoughts and opinions surrounding the issues of sexual assault.

So what exactly should students take away from this week of events? Lisa Winters is SMC’s Title IX Coordinator, a position that aims to both educate the community on how to deal with sexual assault through workshops and investigate claims of gender discrimination and sexual assault. It is also a position that made SMC the first of all community colleges in the state, and probably the nation, to have a dedicated Title IX administrator, as noted by Winters.

Winters tells students although eliminating sexual assault altogether would be a great goal, that it is not realistic. But she says that if more people are aware of “where to go and who to talk to” when a sexual assault occurs, the school can better tackle these issues. For students who wish to learn more about the resources the school offers towards sexual assault victims, Winters recommends asking professors – who receive bulletins about the workshops – and to visit the Santa Monica Title IX page, which provides the time and location of these workshops, as well as online training on how to do their part in preventing sexual assault.

Yet President Jeffery hopes in the long run that this knowledge can be spread to all faculty and staff. She believes this information should not “feel like you can only have access to if you walk into the Health and Wellness Center. It’s the kind of information that faculty should all have in their offices, staff that all have in their offices… because the information then becomes something that you can spread and share to anyone who comes in and asks for help.”