Area college took on #MeToo decades before a movement went mainstream

April 26, 2018
  • By Max Filby
  • Staff Writer

When Antioch College senior Michelle Fujii watched a 25-year-old Saturday Night Live clip of her school being mocked for trying to prevent sexual assault and harassment, she was bewildered but not surprised at the same time.

The skit aired in 1993 and made light of Antioch’s sexual offense prevention policy through a fake game show called “Is it Date Rape?” Now, nearly three decades after Antioch students created one of the nation’s first affirmative sexual consent policies in 1990, the #MeToo movement is forcing the rest of the world to play catch up.

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Michelle Fujii, a senior at Antioch College who will graduate in June. Photo: Staff Writer

“At least national outlets try not to make date rape jokes now,” said Fujii, who graduates in June. “As a woman I’m very aware that sexual harassment and sexual violence is still so prevalent… I do feel a relative sense of safety on campus. But, we definitely see a big difference when we step off campus.”

Antioch’s policy was widely criticized in the 1990s as an attempt to control the sexual behavior of college students. The policy directs students — regardless of their relationship — to verbally agree to physical contact such as kissing or sex before doing so and explicitly states that both parties must disclose any sexually transmitted diseases they may have.

Fujii is one of around 138 students enrolled at the Yellow Springs school that was closed by the Antioch University system in 2008 because of low enrollment and financial issues. A group of alumni formed a nonprofit corporation in 2009 that allowed Antioch College to reopen in 2011.

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Antioch students and visitors are asked to sign the college’s sexual offense prevention policy — SOPP as its commonly called — the moment they step foot on campus. Anyone unwilling to sign the policy’s pledge is asked to leave, said Roger Stoppa, Antioch’s deputy Title IX coordinator.

Antioch’s policy is something the nation keeps coming back to every time consent enters the national spotlight.

It was brought up in 2014 when national attention turned to the issue of campus sexual assault and again now as scores of allegations of sexual harassment have been levied against powerful men in recent months. Both The Washington Post and The New York Times have referenced Antioch’s consent policy in recent stories.

Bethany Saltman, one of the original authors of Antioch’s SOPP, was not surprised when the school’s policy was brought up again in relation to the #MeToo movement.

“Social change is not something that has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s an evolution of thought,” Saltman said. “I’m not at all surprised that we’re feeling deja vu…I’m glad we’re here again because if we weren’t, we would still be not thinking about it.” 

‘Doubly mind blowing’

Saltman, a 1992 Antioch graduate, remembers walking on campus one fall when she saw a sign that stated students had been raped and to “come to this meeting to find out about it.”

Saltman went to the meeting where she heard stories from two women who said they were raped and claimed that the alleged rapist was still on campus.

“This is a tiny, tiny campus and a totally intimate kind of space so I was just kind of thrown,” Saltman said. “That night, I decided to get involved. We just got started right that night.”

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Marcell Vanarsdale, left, and Ellie Burck at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Feb. 20, 2018. Antioch College, a liberal arts college outside of Dayton, Ohio, has a well-known culture of consent. (Andrew Spear/The New York Times) Photo: Staff Writer

The students demanded changes be made to campus policy to prevent non-consensual sex. They threatened to protest if their demands were not addressed and within just a few days, Antioch administrators met with the women on campus who wanted change.

The following fall, Saltman handed off her leadership to another student in the group. Saltman had spent so much time working on changing the school’s policies that she had received a few “incompletes” in classes.

Saltman struggled to understand why the concept of consent was so misunderstood during her time in college. The fact that it continues to be misunderstood — something made apparent by the #MeToo movement — is “doubly mind blowing,” she said.

“I would call it frustration,” Saltman said. “It’s as if the iPhone was invented and everybody is still like on their dial-ups and complaining about it.”

Other colleges

Antioch’s SOPP was ahead of its time and in some cases it still is today. No other area university has students sign an explicit consent policy when they come to campus.

Antioch’s Stoppa was at a conference reccently where a speaker asked him to share the school’s consent policy with a group of educators.

“We took a brief look at it and the (speaker) turned around and said: ‘this is what everybody should be doing,’” Stoppa said.

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Michelle Fujii, left, and Catalina La Mers-Noble at Antioch College, where students pioneered the college’s affirmative sexual consent policy in 1990. On campus, friends may soon ask permission for things like hugs and handshakes. New York Times Photo. Photo: Staff Writer

Miami University comes the closest as the school in 2015 began requiring students to acknowledge they had received Title IX training, said spokeswoman Claire Wagner.

Neither Wright State University nor Wittenberg University require students to sign a consent pledge, spokespeople said for each school. The University of Dayton requires new students to complete a sexual violence prevention program but does not ask them to formally sign anything about consent.

Consent policies are important for colleges to create but what’s more important is how those protocols are enforced, said Ann Brandon, director of prevention at the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

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At Antioch, students can be suspended or expelled for major violations of the SOPP. But, Brandon and OASEV training specialist Kelly Becker said via email that Antioch’s brand of discipline isn’t practiced at every college.

For instance, some schools have required accused students to simply write papers or take anger management classes and another once charged a student a $25 fine after he was accused of rape, Brandon and Becker said.

“Policies are important, but commitment to enforce the policy is another matter entirely,” they said.

Furture of SOPP

As the national discourse over sexual consent continues, Antioch students have taken up another debate.

Issues of personal space could be addressed in upcoming updates to the SOPP. The updates could scrutinize everything from handshakes to hugs, Stoppa said.

Though its still unlikely someone would get expelled for an unwanted hug or handshake, Stoppa said the policy update may be able to head-off a larger problem later on.

“The student body is very conscious of their physical boundaries,” Stoppa said.

The changes could be made before students like Fujii graduate in a few weeks. In fact, Fujii will get to weigh in as the president of the council that will decide the fate of proposed policy updates.

There are some students on campus who already do not like the SOPP, Stoppa said. Those students probably don’t feel they need to ask their best friend for a hug but it doesn’t hurt to ask, even if it’s awkward to, Fujii said.

“I think that could be a good thing to be explicitly stated,” Fujii said. “Who defines what sexual contact is? I think the broader you think of it the better… The best thing is to ask.”

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