The Issue: Mixed Response to Katie Koestner’s Talk

I want to thank Eastern for bringing Katie Koestner to campus on Tuesday, March 11, to tell us about her experience with sexual assault. Eastern is taking steps in combating sexual assault on campus, and as a student, woman, and feminist, I am excited to witness this time of awareness-building on campus.

As with any introduction of a sensitive topic like sexual assault, however, there will always be areas that need improvement. Eastern, though I appreciate your willingness to introduce discussion on this topic, I feel changes need to be made for the future (as I hope this will be a continuing conversation on campus).

Though I understand why Eastern made Koestner’s talk mandatory for all undergraduate students, I think that there needed to be more sensitivity for sexual assault victims in the audience on Tuesday night. Koestner’s story was passionate, emotional, and incredibly important, but could also be triggering for students that are attempting to heal from their own stories of survival. Koestner went through the story of her sexual assault step by step, creating a very emotional and potentially anxiety-provoking experience for survivors of sexual assault or trauma.

Students were not given an easy option to opt out of the event. During the event, getting up and leaving would have been next to impossible considering how packed the auxiliary gym was, and it would have been obvious to the entire student body that an individual was leaving because of the orientation of the room.  Though counselors were available after Koestner’s presentation to emotionally support students, the situation did not allow for confidentiality, and were thus less likely to be utilized by students that were triggered by the evening’s events.

Also, faculty and professors should have been notified that this event was happening. Though Student Development is not required to relay information about all events to professors and faculty, considering the topic of this event, it would have been helpful for information regarding Koestner’s talk to be more widely circulated on campus. Dr. Yolanda Turner, who has a PhD in Human Sexuality and is an associate professor and the co-chair of Eastern’s Psychology department, says, “There are a lot of faculty here [at Eastern] that could have been utilized to do some ‘pre-work’: sociologists, psychologists, social workers on campus.” Professors could have helped prepare students to hear Koestner’s story with information about rape culture, victim blaming, and statistics about sexual assault on college campuses, as well as had follow-up discussions in class. Dr. Turner says, “[Stories about sexual assault] are helpful if they are in context. A story needs to exemplify something that I have learned…to be something I can connect with what I have learned so that I have a lens through which to hear it and respond.”

More than anything, I want this conversation to continue. As a university committed to seeking justice, we need to be asking why sexual assault happens, and how we can best love, support, and seek justice for the survivors of sexual assault, especially in our own community.

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