Kelly Spencer, Copy Editor
The State Times sat down with Ben Lerich, junior, SA Associate Justice and Oneonta State Emergency Squad EMT, regarding the club he plans to propose to SA in the coming fall.
Kelly Spencer: From what I can understand, you’re looking to start a club in the coming fall aimed at educating the male student body about consent in an effort to curb sexual assaults. Can you speak more to this? What would the club consist of?
Ben Lerich: I would like to create a club that is focused on educating the entire college community of SUNY Oneonta, not just men and not just students, on what consent is, and what it is not in regards to sexual encounters. Although I’d like this club to educate everybody, we need to place an emphasis on educating males a bit more in depth. Contrary to the beliefs of some, men can be sexually assaulted by women too, which is why we need to educate women as well. I hope to have this club become recognized by the Student Association (SA). Being an SA recognized club allows for more funding and resources than a club that is not recognized by the SA. One of my priorities for this club is to get at least one member from each athletic team and each Greek organization to join my club, and then have them teach what we preach back to their original organizations. The college community often stigmatizes Greeks and athletes as being the ones who perpetrate sexual assault which is wrong. We should not place every athlete and every Greek under the same umbrella because of the few of them that choose to make disturbing and disgusting decisions. I have met many athletes and many Greeks who are just as passionate about this cause as I am.
KS: What made you want to start this club on our campus? What is it that you saw lacking on our campus?
BL: During my spare time, I volunteer as an Emergency Medical Technician for the Oneonta State Emergency Squad. I have encountered patients who have told me that during their lives they were the victim of sexual assault. While asking these patients questions about their health history, most of them are anxious and depressed. They have an outlook on life that things will never get better. Some that I have encountered are so traumatized by their attacks that they engage in self-injurious behaviors and some even say that they have considered committing suicide or that they have previously been unsuccessful in attempting to end their lives. It does not help that we as a society place such a stigma on those who seek mental healthcare by erroneously labeling them as crazy. I approached Dr. Steven Perry, Vice President of Student Development, informing him that I wanted to help in our campus’ efforts on preventing sexual assaults. Dr. Perry recommended to me that I look into creating an organization on campus focused on educating men on consent.
KS: What made you want to form this idea into a club, instead of an event or lecture?
BL: I can remember my orientation when I transferred here. Hundreds of my fellow transfer students and I were put in the ballroom in Hunt Union on a hot Summer day, where we were all thinking about what classes we were going to register for, the idea of living in a residence hall and how we were going to meet new friends. During our orientation we were spoken to by Chief Daniel Chambers of University Police, the Director of the Office of Student Conduct Amanda Finch and others on what was expected of us during our time here at college. I have read hundreds of pages from many different documents and reports focused on efforts to reduce sexual assaults from places such as the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assaults, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Senate, the New York State Senate, SUNY Policies on Sexual Violence Prevention and Response and they all reiterate that when colleges have these one-time lectures on preventing sexual assault, it is not effective. These reports conclude that what does work is creating on-campus groups or organizations that will continuously educate men throughout their years in college. Most of these one-time lectures are squeezed into freshman or transfer orientation where the potential student’s minds are running a mile a minute.
KS: How has the process of attempting to start a new club been going? What does it entail?
BL:The process is not easy or short but with the right mindset and perseverance an idea or a dream can eventually become an SA recognized club. One should be very familiar with the SA Constitution and SA Club Seeking Recognition Packet, both of which can be found in the SA office in Hunt Union. A meeting with the Vice President of Central Affairs Nicole Pereira is the first required step. She will the provide one with all of the specific details required to try and start a club. I was recently elected as an Associate Justice for the SA and the purpose of my position is to clarify any ambiguities within the SA Constitution and interpret the constitutionality of any action, policy or motion carried out or passed by any member of the Student Association, elected or appointed, or any of its organizations. In other words, I am responsible for clarifying the letter of the law in how the SA is supposed to conduct itself. I believe due to the fact that SA elected officials are required to know the ins and outs of how the SA works, an SA employee would do great in attempting to start a new club. While remaining completely objective and unbiased I have every intention of approaching every SA senator and member of the Executive board to push for their support of this club, similar to a Washington lobbyist. I have been told I will have to prove how my club will be different from any other SA club and not in violation of the SA’s new organization duplication policy which states that the SA will not recognize any proposed organization whose stated purpose closely resembles an already recognized organization.
KS:Are you worried that the guys who really need the education you’d be providing won’t join because they don’t see these things as an issue? Any possible tactics?
BL: There will be males who are not interested in this club because it involves such a sensitive topic, because they do not care or because they do not realize that sexual assaults in college communities are a worldwide pandemic. We need to make it clear to potential perpetrators that every woman is someone’s sister, daughter, aunt, mother or grandmother. As of now, we tend to focus more on telling potential victims how they can alter their lifestyle to prevent being assaulted when they are not the one’s doing anything wrong. I can’t understand why we don’t place the same preventative efforts on trying to change the ones committing the assaults. I hope to get men in positions of leadership here in our community on board. Once the club has educated these role models who other males will listen to on how to get through to the community on this topic things should be a bit easier. I have approached religious figures, police officers, faculty, staff and others with the hopes of appointing a board of advisors so that each of these people whose education all vary, can all throw in their two cents so that we have a broad perspective on how to address this issue.
KS: What are you hopes for this club moving forward?
BL: I hope to get in touch with students at other colleges who already have organizations like this on their campus. I would like to understand what works for them and then evaluate whether that is something that could be done here. I also hope to speak with male high school seniors in the days before they graduate. I want inform them on how seriously they need to understand what consent is and how prevalent of and issue sexual assault is. I also hope to encourage them to bring these efforts to the college or university they will be attending by joining their institution’s sexual assault prevention organizations, and that if their school does not have one to step up and be the one who starts it.
KS: What advice would you give to survivors of sexual assault?
BL: You are not alone. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t give up hope. Don’t be intimidated by your attacker. Don’t be afraid to utilize the resources we have on campus such as University Police to file criminal charges, the Health Center for physical and mental healthcare, the Counseling Center for counseling, and the Office of Student Conduct. It is normal to go through a plethora of emotions that you can’t understand, which is why I strongly advocate for receiving help from a mental healthcare professional. Most importantly, suicide is never an option.
KS: Who has helped in the efforts of creating this club?
BL: Some people have met with me for 30 seconds, others for hours. This is not something that I am going to be able to accomplish alone. I’d like to thank Dr. Perry, Health Educator Rebecca Harrington, GSRC Director Elliot Ruggles, Student-Athlete Nicole Brieva, Instructor Jeffrey Woods, Athletic Director Tracey Ranieri, Chief Chambers, Amanda Finch, SA President Kai Malik, SA Vice President of Central Affairs Nicole Pereira and SA Office Secretary Bonnie Robinson for allowing me to speak with them regarding how to approach this effort to make our community safer, smarter and take a more preventative approach in addressing sexual assaults.