Column: Eckerd president's advice to students

Published Nov. 26, 2014

Eckerd College had two horrific sexual assaults of freshmen this August. I have worked and worried every day since to attempt to make our campus safer.

My conversations with students, faculty, staff, expert consultants and our board of trustees have resulted in new energy and attention to this national issue, and we have launched a number of initiatives involving all campus constituencies. The email I sent this week to our students attempted to broaden the conversation by referencing those various efforts and suggested additional ways we may improve our campus culture to minimize opportunities for sexual assault.

We already have a "yes means yes" policy, and we know that sexual predators are responsible for the vast majority of assaults. We have excellent and supportive student life staff, and sexual assault awareness programs that begin before students matriculate as freshmen.

But we need more. In a perfect world, we wouldn't — but we don't live there. My email was not designed to blame victims — of course — but to help develop a campus culture that has fewer of them — in addition to all the things we are already doing. And will do. The next conversation with students on this complex topic is scheduled for next week.

Below is my open letter sent to students:

Dear Eckerd College students,

As you know, the college has launched an educational and awareness campaign to attempt to minimize sexual harassment and assault in our community. The goal is to raise the awareness of all community members with respect to sexual harassment and assault and to help prevent those incidents by that increased awareness.

You also know that our college is not alone in its concern about such behavior, principally among its students. And you know that these incidents are almost always preceded by consumption, often heavy consumption, of alcohol, often by everyone involved in them.

You can do your part in helping this college and this culture address this nexus of problems by doing two relatively simple things:

1. By limiting your own consumption of alcohol, and encouraging your friends to do the same. Socrates included wine at his Symposium, but he did not get drunk.

2. You can be thoughtful about the dramatic and often negative psychological effects that sexual activity without commitment can have. Virtue in the area of sexuality is its own reward, and has been held in high esteem in Western culture for millennia because those who are virtuous are happier as well as healthier. No one's culture or character or understanding is improved by casual sex, and the physical and psychological risks to both genders are profound.

Every year at the end of the Eckerd College commencement ceremony, I say to the graduating class, "I hope you feel not only well taught, but well loved. We will miss you." I mean every word of that. This open letter is written in that spirit — not as preachment, but with great affection and true, deep and lasting concern.

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As always, I am available for your responses or a visit to my office. I wish each of you good luck in your final weeks of the semester, and a happy, healthy, virtuous 2015.

Donald Eastman III is president of Eckerd College, a private liberal arts college in St. Petersburg.