Pitt forms consent, sexuality group

Members of SECC participate in a weekly meeting Monday night in the William Pitt Union. Will Miller | Staff Photographer

Jillian Bunis wasn’t satisfied after she heard Pitt’s Greek Life lecture on consent and sexual misconduct.

Bunis, a junior studying nursing, wanted every student — not just those in Greek Life — to have a more personal sexual assault education. She felt that a more intimate setting would yield a better understanding of consent, assault and misconduct on campus.

In response to the lecture and the 2015 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, Bunis and Matthew Richardson, the coordinator of fraternity and sorority life at Pitt, formed a coalition to address consent, sexuality and sexual misconduct on campus.

Called Students Engaging in Conversations about Consent and Sexuality, Bunis, Richardson and nine student organizations formed the group in November. They began hosting weekly meetings to discuss sexual assault and educate students about consent, sexuality and sexual misconduct at the beginning of the term and are planning conferences for February and March.

SECCS meetings offer a safe place for students to raise their confusions and concerns regarding Pitt’s sexual climate, as well as help plan awareness and outreach events on Mondays in Room 539 of the William Pitt Union.

“I envisioned a more intimate setting where students created a safe space and navigated these difficult discussions on their own,” Bunis said.

The collaborating organizations, including CHAARG, Residence Life, SHARE and Campus Women’s Organization, worked with Richardson and Carrie Benson, Pitt’s Title IX Diversity Specialist, to advise the club.  Richardson and Benson also act as liaisons between SECCS and the Sexual Assault Task Force Committee — a Graduate and Professional Student Government advocacy committee.

“My Title IX colleagues and I fully support the mission of SECCS,” Benson said. “We look forward to supporting this student organization and their important work.”

The student leaders at SECCS are in charge of the majority of responsibilities, including leading discussions and planning events. 

“Many people likely do not realize that consent must be gained for all sexual actions,” James Kirwan, a member of SECCS, said.

The results of the 2015 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, which Pitt released in September, showed that female students and transgender or non-gender conforming students were more likely to experience harassment or sexual assault on campus.

Aside from Got Consent — a sexual misconduct education group at Point Park University — Pitt is one of the first universities in Pittsburgh to have a student-led organization centered on sexual conduct.

“It will increase awareness of what consists of a consensual situation and will help individuals find forums in which they can discuss their experiences confidentially,” Natalie Dall, a member of SGB, said.

Other U.S. universities — including Georgetown University and University of California, Berkeley — are also increasing awareness of sexual assault through required sexual assault awareness training for students.

Eleanora Kaloyeropoulou, co-founder of SECCS, said increasing awareness works well with bystander intervention because it pairs long-term preventative measures with case-by-case preventative measures.

SECCS has prioritized teaching bystander intervention — like discussing what to do if someone seems uncomfortable in a sexual situation in public — as an accompaniment to its awareness campaign.

“It was clear that this area is lacking. We immediately got to work writing the constitution,” Suzy Hinkle, Campus Women’s Organization president, said.

SECCS finalized its constitution at the end of the fall semester and is awaiting approval from the Student Organization Resource Center.

In the meantime, the coalition continues planning two events for the spring semester — Panthers Speak Out and a roundtable discussion of hookup culture. SECCS applied for SGB grants for both events, but is still waiting for approval from the Board.

“All students will benefit from this organization’s presence on campus and it will prevent many instances of sexual violence and other situations where consent is needed,” Hinkle said.

Bunis said SECCS’s impact has the potential to spread into the rest of Oakland, Pittsburgh and surrounding colleges.

“Hopefully our organization will do work that will act as a model for other universities to engage in similar conversations on their campuses,” Bunis said.

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