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SEMINAR ADDRESSES RAPE CULTURE

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Students and victims of sexual assault were informed of their rights to privacy and left feeling empowered by music after attending “A Changing the Culture of Rape” seminar held at the University at Albany last Monday.

The seminar was hosted by Janell Hobson, an associate professor and the current graduate director of women’s studies at UAlbany, in conjunction with her course Feminism in Action. The purpose of the session was to present students with local resources for sexual assault that are accessible off campus. Guest speakers Elyse Neal from the Albany County Crime Victims Unit and Sexual Violence Center and Michelle Carroll from the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NYSCASA) spoke about their respective advocacy centers.

Carroll explained that students who first report an assault to a local program can have a fully confidential discussion about their options before reporting to a federal program on campus, like Title IX.

Additionally, local advocacy and rape crisis centers are distinct from federal programs.

“It’s important to distinguish between services that advocate for you and services that have a different role beyond advocacy,” Hobson said. 

She explained that centers off campus specifically advocate for victims and survivors of sexual assault.

Chantelle Cleary, the Title IX coordinator at UAlbany, discussed the services that the Title IX Office provides. The university can provide accommodations to students who are victims of sexual assault, including academic accommodations and securing a safe housing environment.  The coordinator also discussed the Advocacy Center for Sexual Violence at UAlbany, which “is an amazing resource unique only to this campus.”

Students retain the ability to make choices when reporting to Title IX where they retain the right to have an advisor of their choice. At Title IX, Cleary also mentioned that students can still receive support and assistance without reporting a sexual assault.

Hobson thinks it is important for students to know about resources both on campus and off.

“I think it’s great though for students to also know the existing resources on campus and to know the existence of services that advocate for victims, such as the Advocacy Center, and offices such as the Title IX Office, that must be advocacy-neutral due to federal laws,” she said. 

As the session concluded, a student who wished to remain anonymous explained that they had expected more student involvement and discussion. Instead, it felt “very centered on the faculty and not on the students.”

The student said they respect these good people, but that there may have been an unintentional lack of sensitivity to the issue.

“I think they got wrapped up in the policies and the legalities of it versus the mental health and emotional components,” they said. “I think what most of us took away from it is that we wish that people had been a little more up front with us—I think the students would have appreciated that.”

The student wishes that Title IX was more upfront about its role as a neutral party.

After the information portion finished, drum instructor, Chrys Ballerano, from NYSCASA ended with therapeutic drumming. All the students formed a large circle with instruments in their laps and Ballerano started the beat. One by one, each student contributed a different beat until the beats formed an empowering whole.

At the end of the session, Ballerano enjoyed watching how the participants were “much more relaxed and joyful about what they’re experiencing and how they’ve contributed their ‘voice’ to the rhythm that has been collectively created.”

Another anonymous student indicated that they loved the drumming, wishing that the session started with it because “everyone was looser and more comfortable after the drumming, but before that, there was a slight kind of tension.”

Ballerano noted that drumming allows her to be “empowered in other ways, both musically and as an activist speaking out against injustices including sexual violence and interpersonal abuse.”

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Elise Coombs, a Syracuse native, is the editor-in-chief of the Albany Student Press. She is the co-Vice President of the UAlbany Mock Trial team, a member of Presidential Honors Society, and a peer mentor for the pre-law section of Writing and Critical Inquiry. After her time at UAlbany, she plans to go to law school and become a First Amendment lawyer.

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