Annual Acquaintance Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) workshops were added to Swarthmore’s orientation schedule in the mid-eighties in response to the number of sexual assaults that occurred to new students early in the semester.
“We wanted to give the presentations before [first years] started going to parties,” says Dean Karen Henry ’87, Swarthmore’s gender education advisor.
Since then, ASAP workshops have become an established part of Swarthmore’s orientation, with upperclassmen run the workshops, bringing their own personal experiences and individual personalities to the (literal) table, and the dynamics depend entirely on the facilitators and the freshmen.
For the most part, the freshmen interviewed found the workshops tedious but necessary. “None of the stuff we learned was really all that profound or different from what we’ve heard in the past,” said Callie Feingold ’12, “but it’s good for the College to reiterate things about sexual harassment, like its definition and the resources available to us.”
“It was educational and open, but it was sort of repetitive. They kind of over-drilled things into our heads,” said Phil Koonce ’12. “I guess it was a lot more informative than I had expected. I thought they would tell me to lock my door and not rape people and be done with it.”
“We had all those other workshops around the same time and while that can get pretty tiring, [ASAP] was pretty useful,” said Jonathan Emont ’12.
For many students though, even after thirty years, the workshops haven’t lost their punch.
“I was freaked out by the testimonials they read to us,” said Kate McNamara ’12, “I was really shocked by the amount of sexual assault that happens on the Swarthmore campus.”
“The testimonials really get you,” added Joe Niagara ’12.
Still, many freshman thought that, even if the content was powerful, the format and the approach have serious flaws.
“People were too worried about being non-offensive,” said a freshman, who requested anonymity. “It took three times longer to get any points across, to say anything, and people couldn’t really understand each other. We were confusing each other with what we were saying because our language had to be completely neutral.”
Another anonymous freshman voiced a similar critique. “It felt kind of weird to be talking about such intimate and serious things with people I had known for less than a week. It was, well, awkward. It wasn’t as open as it could have been, I guess.”
Mark Lewis ’10, one of this year’s ASAP coordinators, acknowledged the concerns brought up by some of the program’s participants. “Awkwardness is something [we] try to address,” he explained, saying that “facilitators should be prepared to … defuse silence or awkwardness or silence based on awkwardness.” Sometimes, he said, new students are perturbed by the workshops’ request that participants not make assumptions about orientation or gender.
“It is something that not everyone is used to, talking about two partners, not just a man and a woman. But we do our best to scaffold people very carefully into this way of discussing things,” he explained.
In his view, the workshops have been a solid success. “We’ve had people tell us that, if they hadn’t had an ASAP workshop, they may have already perpetrated a sexual assault,” he revealed.
Since this year’s ASAP coordinator Jessica Hamilton ’09 is graduating, Anne Miller’10 will be in charge. “If you had a bad ASAP experience,” urged Lewis, “apply to be a facilitator next year.” To apply, contact Jessica Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org