Four weeks ago, a few concerned students came together in response to a Public Safety bulletin that informed students about the rape charges against USF student Ryan Caskey. They ultimately decided to create a space for the USF community to come together in an open dialogue and talk about the issue of sexual violence on campus.
“The way Public Safety framed the issue of these four women who have been raped is that this was an isolated incident on campus, taking away from the very widespread culture of rape that we have on this campus, across the nation, and throughout the world,” said Maggie Mullen, senior USF student and one of the organizers of the forum.
‘Rape is Not an Isolated Incident,’ was the title given to the forum in order to address the frequency of the issue.
The intention of the forum was to allow concerned citizens to speak on whatever they wanted to and in whatever format. One of the main topics of discussion was concerning the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at USF, which has received a lot of criticism.
“[Sexual assault] is an issue that arose a lot of different types of conversations, one of them being ROTC,” Mullen said. “I do think that is a legitimate conversation to have because it is connected to this case, but again, it is only one conversation among many. The forum was not organized with an agenda already in place to poke fingers at people, particularly ROTC.”
Mary Wardell, dean of students of university life, attended the forum and said, “The militarism issue and everything that has to do with the military got attached to this situation. But some people feel that these are separate issues from what the focus of the forum is really about, which is violence against women.”
Lieutenant Colonel Derek Reeve was also in attendance at the forum. Head of the ROTC program at USF, Lt. Col. Reeve has supported getting the issue out in the open and taking actions to deal with it. “When things like this come out of nowhere, we still have to take responsibility, take action to correct it and continue on, making sure everyone understands that we don’t condone this type of behavior,” said Lt. Col. Reeve.
Since the first public meeting, a forum has been held every Thursday in Parina Lounge during the lunch hour. “All we originally planned for was to have a Thursday forum. We had no idea what was going to come out of that,” said Erin-Kate Escobar, another forum organizer and USF senior politics major.
Student activists are now collaborating with other members of the USF community including faculty, administration and the ROTC to help create current change and future prevention of sexual violence on campus.
Within the second forum, various people spoke up about what they wanted to see changed in response to what occurred, and more importantly in response to the much larger issue of sexual violence. A list resulted and people divided themselves into different student committees based on what their interests were and what sort of projects they wanted to work on.
“It turned out to be pretty effective because those groups have been working on their own in whichever way that they feel is necessary. There have been a lot of different people taking leadership roles,” said Mullen.
The various student groups that were formed range from implementing sexual violence awareness in the new student orientation to working with the art department toward creating an art project focusing on sexual violence. One student committee in particular is working with Lt. Col. Reeve on addressing the current sexual violence training for students in the ROTC program.
In reaction to certain opinions said about ROTC, Lt. Col. Reeve is attempting to educate the community about what the program is and is not. “I think the most important thing is that the accusations were against one person in the ROTC program, but they were also made against a student at USF. Neither ROTC nor USF trained him to do that. The actions he is accused of don’t match up to either of the value systems that these institutions have,” he said.
This student committee that developed is concerned with the type of training that ROTC cadets get in terms of sexual violence. Specifically, they are focusing on fostering more educational growth within the program rather than eliminating the program or relying on the army alone to educate cadets on sexual assault.
Feeling that the ROTC program is very isolated, this group of students has created in order to integrate ROTC more onto the USF campus. They hope to create a seminar program that addresses the stress of these issues and the reality of sexual assault.
Escobar said, “We want to create a curriculum for ROTC students that integrates a diversity of subjects and faculty that is more geared toward army situations because this is a population that is going to experience a totally different reality.”
“At the moment the petition is based more on ROTC students but there is also a lot of opportunity here for students to learn more about ROTC,” said Escobar.
Reeve said, “The awareness of the military is a lot lower now than it used to be. There are a smaller percentage of citizens in the military than in the past. So now I think it is even more important to teach people about what ROTC does. I am happy to speak with anyone who has any questions.”
ROTC is a scholarship program that prepares students to be commissioned as officers in the Active Army, Army Reserve, or National Guard. Much of the curriculum is based on leadership training but there are also classes on general Army protocol and background information.
Cadets receive sexual assault training biannually, which is more than anyone else gets on campus.
“They do role-plays, watch videos, which anyone can access on the ROTC web page, and they have open discussions about it,” said Escobar. “But they are also in a totally different population of people who are definitely in a different position of power and authority.”
The student group is working with Lt. Col. Reeve as well as a few ROTC students to figure out what would be most realistic, feasible and enjoyable for all of the students going through ROTC.
“We should, as a university, look at how to educate people, especially freshmen, in the dangers of not being able to make good decisions,” said Reeve.
Although participation has thinned since the first forum, the successive forums have shown that students are taking action for prevention of sexual assault on this campus and are realizing that their concern is necessary for other members of USF community to participate as well.
“I think responses should come from both students and administration,” Mullen said. “It is unfortunate that all of us waited until something horrendous happened to be able to have a movement to reform these kinds of issues and figure out what to do. But I think that now that this has happened, we have the momentum to really do something about it.”
This student movement against sexual violence appears to be able to go one of two ways: fade away and become just another past Public Safety bulletin or sustain itself and actually create positive change here on campus.
As one who has seen how these types of situations can evolve, Wardell said, “It’s so great that we are hearing from students but there are some things that the institution has to materialize. All efforts as good as they are and as passionate as they are at any given time can die if there’s not some way of institutionalizing.”