I had the pleasure last week of visiting with the fantastic students in the Connecticut College Gender and Women’s Studies program’s senior seminar. Emily DeClue, Carolina Denham, Yalidy Mato, Kaitlin Morse, and Sarah Trapido are co-writing a paper arguing that their school functions as a quasi-state in terms of its authority over their lives and their surroundings, and as such its actions can be analyzed through a human rights framework. They specifically analyze a school’s responsibilities to end sexual assault on campus, arguing that the demands of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other international agreements around human rights require that all students feel equally safe on campus. Currently, the students note a “gendered discrepancy between senses of ‘security of person’” on college campuses. The threat of sexual assault is felt much more strongly by female students and sexual assault is experienced much more often by female students, leading female students to feel much less safe on campus then male students. If the school fails to proactively address and improve this situation, they are failing to see sexual assault as “an inexcusable violation of human rights.”
I met the professor who teaches the class (and chairs the department), Dr. Mab Segrest, at V to the 10th (so you know she’s cool). When she told me what her senior seminar was on this year, I was really excited and very honored to be invited to attend one of the seminars and speak about SAFER’s work and how I thought their new intellectual framework could be useful. They will be working on getting the paper published and possibly also setting up a website to make their work available to other students. We will keep you posted about where you can find their work.
**Note to activists** This Connecticut College class offers a fantastic model for how you can lay some of the groundwork for your school campaign (and possibly bring a SAFER trainer to your campus at your school’s expense). Find a faculty ally you trust, be she or he in Gender Studies, History, Sociology, Anthropology, or any number of other fields, and get them to offer a class on the history of activism, human rights and sexual violence, theories of human rights in the U.S., etc., or, if they are a very strong ally, something as specific as Prof. Segrest’s class. Use that class time to develop your background in the area and to put together a working group on the topic among your fellow students. Nothing impresses a good professor more than seeing the class material put into action in a student’s immediate context, and I’d probably give such a final project an A+.
These students don’t just stop at setting out a theoretical framework; they are also writing about how it might be used in relation to their own campus. Their paper is still developing, so I don’t want to comment too much, but they are looking at how important demands from the human rights framework – consciousness, freedom, security, education, and power – are or are not being met and supported by their campus in terms of the prevention of sexual assault. Are all students being educated with a goal of “the full development of the human personality,” a goal which requires both a consciousness about sexual assault as harm we all have a responsibility to end and a security from sexual assault for all students so they can focus on learning other things. Are students being given (or demanding) power to help determine how the school responds to sexual assault allegations? And are all students equally free – to go where they want, do what they want, be who they want to be – in a way that does not impinge on any other student’s freedom but is also never forcibly lessened by some other student’s desire to be more free than others? I’m really looking forward to the final product.