In light of the national media coverage of the Stanford sexual assault case, The Daily Princetonian decided to look into the existing measures in eating clubs to ensure healthy and safe nightlife on campus.
Just last week, Charter Club began to ask students to read a consent pledge — a piece of paper that says, “Consent is asking for and receiving affirmation before and while engaging in anyone’s personal space or belongings, and can be revoked at any time,” — before they could enter parties at the club.
The move was met with overwhelmingly positive responses, according to Lorena Grundy ’17, president of Charter.
“While I was on duty that night, a lot of people came up to thank me for it, and not just girls but people of all genders,” she said, adding that former members and alumni of the club had also reached out to express their approval.
The idea to introduce the pledges came from Will Rose ’17, Charter’s House Manager and Technology Chair. Rose said that he had been talking to friends from Stanford where such a consent pledge was handed out before parties, which sparked the thought that Charter could use something similar.
“It wasn’t a reaction to any particular incident but more of an ‘abstract good’ situation,” he noted, adding that the Stanford sexual assault case was not mentioned in the discussions with his friends.
Grundy added that the pledge is more of a preventative measure than a reactionary one for Charter.
SHARE, eating clubs collaborate to make Prospect Avenue safe
Bringing consent to the forefront is important to all the clubs, and officers are always looking for ways to increase awareness on and prevent sexual assault, said Samuel Smiddy ’17, president of the Interclub Council (ICC) and Cloister Club. He explained the close collaboration between the SHARE office and eating clubs.
“I think it’s good for eating club officers to receive SHARE training, just like any other student leaders on campus,” he said.
Grundy added that all Charter officers had gone through the training.Mina Para ’17, president of Ivy said in an email that the club met all the guidelines recommended by ICC and SHARE.
Para said that the club also worked closely with a SHARE peer in the club to improve safety, particularly in regard to sexual harassment and assault.
Most clubs offer a range of activities on sexual assault prevention and awareness including SHARE training for all members, ensuring that trained and sober officers (often in uniform) are on duty the nights that the club is open, and the presence of security personnel in the club, according to Smiddy.
“Eating club officers want to keep people safe”
While these might all seem like reactionary measures after intense media focus on sexual assault on college campuses, eating clubs at Princeton have been collaborating with the SHARE office for nearly five years.
Spencer Jones ’12, ICC Advisor, said that preventing sexual harassment and assault has always been a focus of the council, but was really formalized over the past four years in response to campus environment issues in other schools.
Jacqueline Deitch-Stackhouse, director of SHARE, added that the effort has only been strengthening over the past few years with students taking more active roles as the years go by.
“There is a lot of responsibility on eating club officers, so we made this more doable by together developing a ‘best practices’ checklist,” she noted. The checklist contains guidelines that eating clubs can use to ensure that awareness on sexual assault is kept front and center, she said, and is one that several generations of ICC members have worked on together.
“Presidents of eating clubs want to keep people safe at their establishments and are very receptive to SHARE collaboration,” Deitch-Stackhouse added.
She said it was exciting to see students engaging further with the SHARE office and even taking the initiative to start new programs, like with Charter’s consent pledge. While SHARE did not work with Charter on the wording of the pledge, Deitch-Stackhouse believed that the statement was broad and encompassed a wide territory beyond just sexual harassment and assault.
Promotion of open discussion on sexual assault
Rose pointed out that the goal of the pledge was not to define consent but to remind students of it before they entered the club.
“It’s not something that I ever expected an eating club to do,” said Ellina Woodgate ’20. She added that the University appeared to be a very open campus when it came to discussions on sexual harassment and assault, with multiple talks during and after orientation.
SHARE Peer Alexandra Kersley ’19 also said in an email that it is really exciting to see the Princeton community engaging in issues of interpersonal violence and finding new ways to approach prevention.
Woodgate said that she hadn’t heard of as many cases of sexual assault at the University as at other college campuses across the country. But whether that was because Princeton was genuinely a safer campus or because cases of assault were severely underreported was something she said she could not comment on.
“There’s definitely a lot of discussion on preventing a situation from arising, but I don’t know about the ‘after’ of an assault, I can’t speak to that,” Woodgate said.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s a big step in the right direction”
“I think it’s quite strange that they [Charter] decided not to use the phrase ‘sexual activity’ in the pledge, it feels like they’re skirting around the issue,” said Jamie O’Leary ’19, president of Princeton Students for Gender Equality.
The pledge is also missing any discussion on the inability to give consent while incapacitated, Micah Herskind ’19 pointed out. Woodgate agreed, adding that more problems could arise if intoxicated people who couldn’t read the pledge might just decide to go to another club, thereby negating the effect that the pledge would hope to have.
“It seems to me that most sexual assaults would happen not at clubs, but afterwards in rooms,” added Woodgate. Yet she agreed that the idea was excellent and one that made her personally happy. O'Leary agreed that it was an excellent initiative.
Herskind explained that while this single pledge was not enough to eradicate sexual assault altogether, it was a step toward changing campus culture.
“While it’s not perfect, it’s a massive step in the right direction and it makes me more excited to go to Charter now because they’re doing this cool thing," he said.
“If it [the consent pledge] helped even the tiniest bit, it was worth it,” Rose said.