Sexual misconduct on campus raises questions about safety

By Tatyanna Carman 

A report of unwanted sexual contact in Wright Hall on the Lawrenceville campus and a report of sexual assault in Seabrook Hall on the Princeton campus of Westminster Choir College were announced to the Rider community on Dec. 17.

The sexual contact report occurred on Dec. 17 and the sexual assault report occurred on Dec. 15. In both cases, the perpetrators were known by the victims and were not students of the university. Both of the victims were women and both of the perpetrators were men, according to Public Safety Capt. James Flatley. 

“The anti-harassment and non-discrimination policy, there is nothing in there about sexual contact, but we probably could’ve worded it a little differently it was a case of fondling for the sexual contact, but the sexual assault was a more serious offense,” said Flatley.  

He quoted the state law’s definition of sexual contact, which is “an intentional touching by the victim or actor, either directly or through clothing of the victims or actors intimate parts for the purpose of degrading or humiliating the victim or sexually arousing or sexually gratifying the actor, sexual contact of the actor with himself must be in view of the victim when the actor knows to be present.” 

According to Flatley, Public Safety issued a persona non grata, which informs the perpetrators that they are no longer welcome back on either campus and they would be subject to arrest for trespassing if they are found on either campus.

Junior journalism major and Wright Hall resident Andriana Rice-Gilmore expressed her thoughts on the incident. She found out while she was with her cheerleading team at a basketball game on the night of Dec. 17. 

“It’s definitely safe to say that me and my teammates were all shocked. Not only because it’s here on campus, a lot of us live in Wright. So to hear that another person that lives at Wright, we were all really shocked. We were all really surprised because you never expect it to happen but you know it can happen,” she said. 

Rice-Gilmore also shared the effects that the incidents had on the Rider community. 

“The sad part is that I could have been in my room. I could have been able to hear it and help someone but unfortunately I was not,” said Rice-Gilmore. “I know that because of this a lot of people have been bringing up other incidents on campus that have happened before. I definitely think people are aware of the situation and there are people that it has happened to. I think some people are afraid to come out and say something. It’s what happens and it’s sad that it’s normal.”

Rice-Gilmore commended Rider for notifying students quickly about the incidents that occurred and for withholding private information. However, she did give some suggestions on how the university can be safer. 

“Honestly, one thing that really bothers me is the safety on this campus, for it to be such a private, small campus and for us to be located where we are located,” she expressed. “It’s very busy where we’re located. I feel as though we should have, you know we have those gates there, but they do nothing. Anyone can come on this campus at any time and it’s very dangerous. People walk on this campus at all hours of the night, maybe so much as taking a walk and something can happen. I definitely think Rider should crack down more on their safety and really realize who they’re letting on to this campus without knowing.”

Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Planning Debbie Stasolla responded to this concern. According to Stasolla, the university decided to no longer restrict traffic on the Lawrenceville campus during evening and overnight hours. She said, “We found that it did not effectively serve as a deterrent or safety measure and detracted from the welcoming community that we are. Most college campuses across the country, including our own Princeton campus, do not restrict traffic on and off their campuses so we are now more aligned with national practices.” 

Stasolla also said it is not uncommon for students and others to invite those they know onto campus.

“Given the open nature of our campus, we provide Public Safety coverage 24/7, including an officer stationed evenings and overnight at the back of campus, and have blue light emergency phones and cameras located strategically throughout campus,” she said. “We encourage students to take basic safety precautions such as walking together late at night, programming 911 and Public safety numbers in their phones, paying attention to their surroundings, reporting suspicious activity and persons to Public Safety, not propping open residence hall doors and not letting anyone into the residence hall that you don’t know.”

Rice-Gilmore also said that she hopes that people encourage their friends to put an end to sexual misconduct on campus and suggested that Rider’s programs should have a more “comfortable and natural” environment to talk about the topics surrounding sexual misconduct. 

Prevention Education Coordinator Susan Stahley said that she will continue to raise awareness about consent and the power of bystander interventions amongst other topics. 

“I can not do this work alone and encourage students to also have conversations with others, how they can prevent harm to others,” Stahley explained. “New students to campus are all required to complete the online educational programs through Everfi (AlcoholEdu & Sexual Assault Prevention for College). Prior to these incidents, plans have already been in the works to offer online refresher programs to all students.” 

Stahley also gave students some advice on how to stay safe on campus. Her number one word of advice was to “watch out for one another.” She promoted Rider’s agreement with Womanspace, which allows the organization to come to the Public Safety building and have free confidential conversations with students. 

“I also want the community to help reinforce that it is never ever the victim’s fault. No one asks to be assaulted, it doesn’t matter what you wear, if you drank [or] used drugs, who you choose to be with or where to go….No one is ‘asking for it’.  I need others to echo this message around our campus community and speak up if they hear someone blame the victim,” Stahley said. 

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