Sexual assault leads town hall discussion

In what seemed like a surprise to the panel, sexual assault led the concerns voiced by students at last Wednesday’s annual Town Hall meeting.

Four different students brought up the issue, all of whom expressed that there is a lack of education surrounding the issue. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen a lack of education from the University at large,” said Amanda Bahn, sophomore health sciences major.

Bahn asked what the University planned on doing about sexual assault, to which Dean of Students Sofia Pertuz answered that they are already working on the education of this issue but agreed that more education is needed.

“Just last week we had our launch for the ‘It’s On Us’ campaign and we had students, no less than twenty, that were part of the planning committee,” Pertuz said. “No one will dispute that this is an important issue and that we definitely need more education. We can always use more education.”

Julie Rafatpanah, a senior history, political science and global studies major, found that the launch of the It’s On Us campaign failed to adequately discuss sexual assault. “I just thought that it was kind of odd that no speakers were brought in for a program that was really meant to have a conversation and stimulate dialogue,” she said.

The students raised these concerns to a panel of ten. President Stuart Rabinowitz and Provost Herman Berliner sat beside Joseph Barkwill, vice president of Facilities and Operations and Karen O’Callaghan, director of Public Safety. They were joined by Jessica Eads, vice president of Enrollment Management, Gary Miller, director of the Career Center, Pertuz, and Michael Perlmutter, operations coordinator for Residential Programs. Jared Sarcka, chair of the Student Affairs committee and Mark Atkinson, SGA president sat on the panel as student representatives.

Rabinowitz and Atkinson stressed that this event was supposed to be a conversation starter and a way to promote awareness about the issue – which Rafatpanah contested. “The odds that somebody knows somebody that has been sexually assaulted at Hofstra are very high. I don’t think that it’s something that a lot of people aren’t aware of. Actually, ironically I think what people weren’t aware of was what It’s On Us was about,” Rafatpanah said. “I actually saw people in the Student Center asking what the event even was because they had no idea, even as the countdown was going on.”

Rabinowitz acknowledged that the event didn’t have the depth that some people wanted, but defended it. “The reason it was done was to kick off a serious discussion about respecting each other’s rights and personal safety… it’s just the beginning,” Rabinowitz said.

Another topic of conversation was Hofstra’s academic calendar. Many are calling for the University to adopt a secular calendar, which most other private schools without religious affiliation follow.

Provost Berliner commented on the calendar rumors. He said, “We have looked at the calendar multiple times and looked at going into a more secular calendar. Each time we’ve polled the students, we’ve polled the rest of the community and based on the input that we’ve gotten, we kept the calendar the way it is.”

At the most recent faculty meeting, the academic calendars for 2015-16 and 2016-17 were not approved. The faculty argued that moving toward a secular calendar would be much more beneficial for the University’s constituencies. This may indicate that the University may be moving toward a secular calendar sooner, rather than later.

Additionally, students addressed other on-campus concerns, including changes to the residential side of campus. Sean Grealy, a junior exercise science major and resident assistant, asked if it were feasible for the Netherlands Complex to get a small fitness center and suggested that a section of the Netherlands Core be utilized for that.

Vice President Barkwill noted that Netherlands South will be renovated over the summer, and that while there were no plans for a fitness center, it could be possible. “We’ve had a lot of input on the renovations from students and ResLife, this is the first time I’ve heard about putting an athletic facility there,” Barkwill said.

Barkwill stated that the Netherlands Core might not be ideal because there are classrooms under it, but sectioning patio areas off and installing equipment could be a possibility.

Along with inquiring about a fitness center, Grealy also asked if it would be possible for Hofstra to have an interfaith worship area. “When we’re having mass in the Greenhouse, and people are walking through interrupting it on Sunday and Wednesday nights, [or] when I’m in the Interfaith Center and a Muslim student comes in asking if they can go in the corner to pray because there’s nowhere else to go, it kind of pains me,” Grealy said.

Rabinowitz said that if it’s clear that this is a really high priority for many students, then the University would try to find the resources to make it happen in conjunction with the ‘“master plan.”

Although Campus Dining Services was not the biggest concern of the meeting, Rafatpanah brought it up, who asked whether a swipe-to-eat program could be put in place where students would have to swipe one time for their meal instead of a la carte.

“We are going to look at that and evaluate it in terms of the next contract. It takes a lot of different facility enhancements and different issues on campus,” Barkwill said. “For example, [for] an all-you-care-to-eat facility, we have to separate that dining room from regular diners.” He also highlighted other issues surrounding that type of service, but said that this matter will be discussed again once the current contract is up.

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