Respect & Responsibility Initiative Event

The month of April is packed with holidays but this month also honors something I find more important than bunnies and matzah bread. April is the month of awareness for both sexual abuse and domestic abuse. Millsaps is currently covered with pinwheels that draw awareness to abuse, courtesy of Kappa Delta, and events such as the Clothesline Project and Take Back the Night spur conversation as well.

Paul Gomila,   a junior and head of the Respect & Responsibility Initiative, adds to this

Photo Credit: Paul Gomila
Photo Credit: Paul Gomila

month of abuse awareness by hosting an informative event in the Kava House April 29, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. (and he’s promised pizza). He has asked representatives from The Mississippi Center for Violence Prevention and the Rape Crisis Center to come on campus so our school can better discuss “being an active bystander in situations of sexual violence, and how we can move forward in addressing issues of sexual violence, gender quality and mutual respect as a unified campus.” I sat down with Paul to chat about his ideas surrounding responsibility and respect of all genders on Millsaps Campus.

Purple & White: In your opinion, what is Millsaps’ current situation with preventing rape and sexual harassment?

      Paul Gomila: As far as I know, the Respect and Responsibility Initiative is the only student organization dedicated to these types of issues. I know of course that Amnesty exists, but I don’t know to what extent they work on this stuff formally. [Editor’s note: Amnesty’s abuse awareness event is Take Back the Night April 26.]

  These topics also fall under Lori Genous’ position {Ed. Note: The Director of Campus Health}, but I’m not exactly sure what all of her job responsibilities are. So between RRI and Lori, I think we’re the only ones who are actively working on sexual violence prevention and mutual respect specifically; (although) I know other students have posted to the P&W or held events like Take Back the Night that focus on these issues as well.

            I’m shocked that there isn’t more though. Going to Respectcon at Emory (University) really opened my eyes to what Millsaps is lacking. Granted we aren’t the biggest school, but I would think that if there’s any college in Mississippi, and even the Deep South, that would be on the forefront of these issues, it would be Millsaps. We have counselors, we have resources, but these are reactive structures that, to my knowledge, are hardly used if it all.

            As far as active structures, I know that sororities and fraternities do some training for new members but I don’t know who does what specifically, or to what extent they try to work on these topics. As far as strictly preventative measures, I think the trainings I just mentioned, as well as some things incorporated into freshman orientation like the QEP might be it—and even with those, it may be argued that they really aren’t preventative. So, overall, I think the situation is rather bad, which is upsetting to me as a Millsaps student and a human being who cares about these problems.

      P&W: That is troubling. So, what changes would you like to see on campus in terms of this topic?

      PG: There a lot of changes that I would like to see, ideally. Realistically is a very different story, but let’s stick to what’s ideal. I would love to see formal structures put in place to both support and actively work toward a more respectful and violence-free campus atmosphere. This includes more serious and effective education and training during freshman orientation (and during Greek new-member initiation).

            Increased awareness of important definitions is also key. For example, everyone should understand what rape, sexual violence, disrespect, consent and gender equality really are. Furthermore, awareness of possible solutions once something has occurred would be great—a lot of people aren’t aware of what options they have once violence occurs.

            On the other hand of that issue, though, are the cultural norms within the college that say victims of disrespect or survivors or rape or other violence should be silent. This is brought up so often—there’s an attitude of victim blaming (and) shaming, and it needs to end. (We) also need  direct and timely consequences, but this also difficult because the school can’t do anything unless events are officially reported—which again, getting people to report events is a problem in the first place. Aside from formal consequences from administration about more severe occurrences, there need to be consequences for micro-aggressions and disrespect in general.

            People need to understand from the word go that it’s not OK to disrespect or objectify women, it’s not OK to use offensive and cruel language, it’s not OK to force, or by other dishonest means coerce, other people into engaging in sexual activities with you. This goes back to freshman orientation, but it’s also on the shoulders of the student body. We all need to be more active about letting people know what is and is not allowed, which honestly is very difficult for anyone, myself included. It’s hard to tell your friend that he should stop using the word “slut” or to convince a victim of violence that it’s OK to report the event.

            The most significant portion of the problem lies in these informal exchanges, though—in our interactions with one another and social cues we give. This is why I wanted to have an event focused on bystander intervention, (because) so many people don’t know what to do in situations that could lead to violence or when disrespect is so prevalent.

            But, again, the problem isn’t only letting people know what to do, but showing them that it’s worth doing, and then hoping that they actually decide to do something about it. Above anything else, I want to see that change: people understanding the significance of these issues and their own actions, and understanding the importance of treating each other with respect and dignity … and then, of course, actually acting on these things. I would love to see more students being active instead of passive when it comes to these problems, which I think is happening.

            Lastly, and this is the other big goal for the upcoming event on the 29th I am planning: I want people to understand that there is no point in pointing fingers or fighting amongst ourselves, this is an issue that concerns everyone and, if we want to make true progress, we have to move forward as a campus.

     P&W: What compels you to do this kind of work?

      PG: It’s hard to articulate. It isn’t the case that someone close to me is a survivor, though statistics say otherwise. I all of a sudden felt the need to go out and make the difference. A series of events led me to see that this is a problem at Millsaps, and I decided to act. There isn’t really a grand or direct reason, it’s just the right thing to do, and I feel compelled as a person to do it.