BY DALTON SCHIRLING
“When you watch the graduating class walk across that stage, if there are 1700 graduates, that’s around 800 women, right? If one-out-of-four of those women have been sexually assaulted while they’re in college, that’s 200 women, and multiply that. That’s every graduating class, every year” said Angela Hattery, professor of women and gender studies and co-director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Gender-Based Violence at the university.
Such a figure is a reminder of the prevalence of gender-based violence and cultures of sexual, physical and/or emotional violence across college campuses in the United States.
In October 2021, the university’s response to an alleged assault provoked immense student uproar and widespread criticism.
Nearly a week after the alleged assault, ￼President Dennis Assanis issued a response condemning the act of gender-based violence and apologizing for the lack of response from the university.
In the response, Assanis wrote, “We simply did not live up to our aspirations, and we all want to do better.”
Also in the response, Assanis noted there would be an increased collaboration with the Center for the Study and Prevention of Gender-Based Violence. This center is housed in the Women and Gender Studies Department, and actively hosts events and programs centered around awareness and prevention of gender-based violence at the university.
“The university, rightly, turned to faculty to get involved in this, to give us a forum, to use the Center for the Study and Prevention of Gender-Based Violence” Margaret Stetz, professor of women’s studies and humanities, said.
“They were in a very good position then to really help the university think through what had gone wrong, and what could be done better in terms of responding, but also preventing that kind of crime,” Stetz said.
“We were asked by the President’s Office to have a response,” Hattery said on the role of the faculty in the Women and Gender Studies Department in the aftermath of the October assault.
Hattery then described what the faculty have been doing in the wake of the President’s request.
“We’re teaching classes, we’re offering training, what we call ‘workforce development,’” Hattery said, defining the term as “opportunities for students to be trained and then work in the Delaware community.”
The Center for the Study and Prevention of Gender-Based Violence has even seen the expansion of areas of study surrounding topics of gender-based violence, such as offering a minor and a concentration in Domestic Violence Prevention Services.
Hattery continued to describe the work that the Center does within the Newark community.
“We do all kinds of workshops and trainings when we’re asked, or when we can get our way in the door. Some of those are on-campus; some of those are off campus,” Hattery said.
But the work being done by the Women and Gender Studies Department aids more than just the students, and, as Hattery said, has been dually beneficial for the staff and faculty of the university in terms of the education and prevention of gender-based violence. Hattery highlighted one example.
“The Development of Alumni Relations Office asked us to do a program for them about Gender-Based Violence, so that their staff could respond to donors who ask them, ‘What the heck is going on up there?” Hattery said.
Hattery highlighted the responsive gesture of the Development of Alumni Relations Office to request such a program.
“They actually asked us, which I think is super important…they felt like they needed training to be able to talk to parents and alumni that they interface with,” Hattery said.
In addition to Hattery’s point, Stetz also spoke on the response of the university to acts of gender-based violence on campus.
“I do appreciate that they are often trying to do what’s right,” Stetz said. “But it’s also limited in that what new students arrive already believing about gender roles, notions of masculine entitlement, about women as possessions.”
According to Stetz, students at the university enter with predispositions from the socialization of principles that incite gender-based violence, and this socialization is deep-rooted.
“So, when we’re thinking about what to do and what to change; it’s got to happen before people get to UD although what they do at UD obviously matters a lot,” Stetz said.
One common point in both Stetz’s and Hattery’s recommendations for decreasing the prevalence of gender-based violence at the university is to look at feedback from students who took their courses over the years.
“The one thing I would say is what my students often tell me,” Stetz said. “When I read course evaluations at the end of the semester … the students keep saying again and again that courses in feminism, courses in gender, courses taught by Women and Gender Studies faculty should be required.”
Making these courses a mandatory requirement for every student at the university would go a long way in dissecting the facets of the Western belief system that generate such notions of gender according to both Stetz and Hattery.
Because, in its current state, the deconstruction of these notions of gender is not reaching the mass student population at the university, and these courses in the Women and Gender Studies Department can be missed altogether throughout the whole of undergraduate study.
“There is a multicultural requirement, and women and gender studies courses count for the multicultural requirement; but there are many ways to fulfill the multicultural requirement that don’t necessarily introduce these topics,” Stetz said.
Hattery, who teaches a class called “Women and Violence” at the university, iterated a similar point.
“I can’t tell you how many students write in their students evaluations ‘this class should be required for every student.’”
In these courses, “[the students] think about things, and think about perspectives, about intersectional feminism, about a lot of things that they were never hearing in other classes in high school and, in some cases, even in classes at the university,” Stetz said.
Based on the evaluations, students who take women and gender studies courses at the university are greatly affected by the material covered in these courses.
“I think it says they learned what they needed, what they wish they had learned and what they felt like everybody needed to know,” Hattery said.
On the topic of instituting these mandated women and gender studies courses, Hattery spoke about the role the Center for the Study and Prevention of Gender-Based Violence plays in attempting to make this addition to the university’s curriculum.
“The Center is doing work to try to make a much more substantive requirement,” Hattery said. “So, we’re starting with the hopes of having a one-credit course, that would be multiple weeks, added to the curriculum.”
The Women and Gender Studies Department’s desire for curricular amendment creates momentum towards the fruition of those amendments.
“But adding things to the curriculum, that has to go through a whole process,” Hattery said.
“We’re trying,” Hattery continued. “I can’t speak for what might be happening on the other direction, but I know that we haven’t been asked ‘could you ramp up and teach?’ but, in fairness, that’s probably going to have to come from the faculty, like the faculty are gonna have to demand that.”
Hattery emphasized the work and advocacy being done in conjunction between the university’s administration and the Women and Gender Studies Department, but Hattery also encouraged the involvement of another integral part of campus culture: the student body.
“To have students say, ‘We want this class something like this needs to happen,’ helps,” Hattery said.
According to the accounts of both Stetz and Hattery, the university administration, following the mass criticism and demands from protestors in the wake of the assault, have shown a commitment to reaching out to expert faculty and the student body, and also listening to the suggestions the two parties have on how to respond to incidents of gender-based violence.
“Everywhere there are more systems in place than there ever was before; there is more awareness than there ever was before, whether there is enough anywhere is really up to question,” Stetz said.
Based on the response and subsequent actions taken by the university’s administration in the wake of the alleged assault, Stetz argues the awareness, responsiveness, and willingness to change on an institutional level in response to gender-based violence are on an upward trend.
“There’s definitely shifts happening right this moment; and there’s a period of comment that’s allowed now where anyone can comment on these new proposals before they become official guidelines, ” Stetz said about the trajectory of gender-based violence awareness and prevention.
Both Stetz and Hattery are in agreement that there is a need to not only address issues that result from a climate rooted in misogyny, but also the cause of the climate itself.
According to Stetz and Hattery, this change can be orchestrated through continued educational and awareness initiatives.
“We can’t make up for a whole 18 or 19 years of socialization,” Stetz said. “But we can at least try.”