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Occidental students finding their way in navigating sexual consent rules



Sofia Schugar, left, Natalie Sharp, Lenox Peterson and Isabel Annino stop at the domestic violence awareness table at Occidental College to write in support of sexual assault awareness on campus. They are cross-country running recruits who will attend Occidental next year.
Sofia Schugar, left, Natalie Sharp, Lenox Peterson and Isabel Annino stop at the domestic violence awareness table at Occidental College to write in support of sexual assault awareness on campus. They are cross-country running recruits who will attend Occidental next year. "A girl going to college shouldn't have to worry about dating violence," Sharp said. "She should only have to worry about her education."
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Sofia Schugar, left, Natalie Sharp, Lenox Peterson and Isabel Annino stop at the domestic violence awareness table at Occidental College to write in support of sexual assault awareness on campus. They are cross-country running recruits who will attend Occidental next year.
Naddia Palacios is a survivor advocate at Occidental College, working with students to prevent sexual assault. Gov. Jerry Brown just signed a measure creating guidelines for colleges to follow when investigating sexual assault.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Sofia Schugar, left, Natalie Sharp, Lenox Peterson and Isabel Annino stop at the domestic violence awareness table at Occidental College to write in support of sexual assault awareness on campus. They are cross-country running recruits who will attend Occidental next year.
Jay Miller, left, and Brian Erickson speak to students about sexual assault during dating violence awareness week at Occidental College.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Sofia Schugar, left, Natalie Sharp, Lenox Peterson and Isabel Annino stop at the domestic violence awareness table at Occidental College to write in support of sexual assault awareness on campus. They are cross-country running recruits who will attend Occidental next year.
Lauren Torres, a sophomore at Occidental College, speaks with Brian Erickson, a junior, about dating violence awareness week on campus.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Sofia Schugar, left, Natalie Sharp, Lenox Peterson and Isabel Annino stop at the domestic violence awareness table at Occidental College to write in support of sexual assault awareness on campus. They are cross-country running recruits who will attend Occidental next year.
Occidental College students filled out cards with phrases that will be posted in a common area on campus to help raise awareness about dating violence.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Sofia Schugar, left, Natalie Sharp, Lenox Peterson and Isabel Annino stop at the domestic violence awareness table at Occidental College to write in support of sexual assault awareness on campus. They are cross-country running recruits who will attend Occidental next year.
A screenshot from Occidental College's online sexual assault training.
Courtesy Occidental College
Sofia Schugar, left, Natalie Sharp, Lenox Peterson and Isabel Annino stop at the domestic violence awareness table at Occidental College to write in support of sexual assault awareness on campus. They are cross-country running recruits who will attend Occidental next year.
A screenshot from Occidental College's online sexual assault training.
Courtesy Occidental College
Sofia Schugar, left, Natalie Sharp, Lenox Peterson and Isabel Annino stop at the domestic violence awareness table at Occidental College to write in support of sexual assault awareness on campus. They are cross-country running recruits who will attend Occidental next year.
A screenshot from Occidental College's online sexual assault training presents viewers with a multiple choice question on sexual coercive statements.
Courtesy Occidental College


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Before Occidental College students could set foot in their classrooms this fall, officials required each to take a two-hour online training course, a large portion of which focuses on how couples can communicate consent before having sex.

The "Think About It" training has some uncomfortable, squirm-worthy scenarios. One depicts a male student who admits he may have gone too far after a female friend gets drunk and passes out. 

Designed to teach students what's appropriate and what's not, the slides and video also could help Occidental address a history, according to some critics, of treating sexual assault reports too casually.

The training rolled out in advance of Gov. Jerry Brown's approval of the "yes means yes" bill that requires affirmative, voluntary consent to sex on college and university campuses. The legislation, signed Sunday, details the process that officials must follow when a student files a sex assault complaint.

Occidental began implementing changes last year. A lawsuit brought by students and a federal investigation into the college's handling of sexual assault cases pushed the college to strengthen its policies on sexual assault cases and teach students how not to cross the line.

Some students believe the unwanted spotlight shed on Occidental and the student training have changed the conversation in the bedroom. 

“I feel like I’ve definitely heard more conversations from, like, men, that are kind of different, I guess. I feel like consent is definitely something that is more considered,” said senior Vanessa Zendejas.

What does that conversation sound like?

“Are you good? Are you good with this?” said sophomore Alitzel Tamayo.

But that’s not as clear as the college’s definition of consent. The policy is spelled out in Occidental College’s 46-page college sexual misconduct policy. When it comes to sexual relations, the college expects students to have affirmative, ongoing consent. Equally important: consent can’t be inferred from silence, lack of physical resistance, or the absence of a “no.”

“There’s no written test on the language of the policy, but we expect them to understand the conduct that is expected of a member of our community,” said Ruth Jones, the college’s Title IX coordinator.

Occidental requires that amid sexual activity, both people understand the scope of what they’re doing through clear communication, she said. 

In the dance of sexual relationships between young adults, however, straight-forward language may be the last thing on a couple's minds, and "Are you good?" may be all that one can blurt out.

“It’s vague but it lets you interpret it the way you want to and then, again, go in and be like, ‘No!’ and get more specific or 'yes' or whatever,” Tamayo said.

High stakes


The 127 year-old college, nestled among oak trees in L.A.’s Highland Park neighborhood, is one of dozens of institutions of higher learning across the country rocked by allegations that their sexual assault policies have failed to serve victims and allowed attackers to escape punishment.

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating 55 campuses, Occidental included, to determine whether college officials did enough to investigate claims of sexual assault.

After pressure from federal officials and campus activists, Occidental hired Jones and a sexual assault victim’s advocate. The campus is also pushing its affirmative consent policies in the trainings online and in-person sessions.

Andy Eichar, a member of Phi Kappa Psi, was an "orientation leader" during two sexual assault trainings this year and helped train new students on the language of consent. He has been taking his training to the frat house.

“You have to have permission,” he said. “You have to respect the other person’s body in such a way and you cannot gather such permission from, silence or from someone being too intoxicated to be in control of their body.”

But Eichar said the message of consent has yet to fully take hold, and this hints at the complexity of moving policies into practice.

"It’s something that we still haven’t grasped and I can’t say that we’re there yet, because there’s still a lot of disgusting behavior going on.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said Andy Eichar was hired to train students on sexual assault policies. The work he did was unpaid. KPCC regrets the error.