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VERMILLION, S.D. | Administration officials at the University of South Dakota held a town hall meeting on Monday night to address student concerns about sexual assault in the wake of the arrest of two football players. 

Discussion of any specific sexual assault or harassment cases was prohibited at the town hall, which was held three weeks after a widely publicized sexual assault allegation involving USD football players Danny Rambo, 20, and Dale Williamson, 21. Rambo is charged with one count of second-degree rape and Williamson, one count of attempted second-degree rape in connection with an incident that happened at an off-campus residence on Oct. 22.

Students asked the panel questions about USD's sexual assault policies, prevention measures and training.

Olivia Mann, a USD senior, accused the university of bungling sexual assault allegations. She alluded to an episode on campus in February 2016, when a fraternity house was graffitied with the words "We date rape." 

"When the Phi Delta (fraternity) house was vandalized last year, the message that you sent to students and the community, in the eyes of students, was that sexual assault does not happen at the University of South Dakota," Mann said. "This is a message that we have been sent repeatedly, and that a lot of students believe is completely inaccurate. There are many students in this room who know people who've been sexually assaulted, and who know cases that have been mishandled by the university." 

Mann asked the panelists what their plan was to handle future sexual assault allegations. Kimberly Grieve, vice president of student services and dean of students, a member of the panel, replied that the administration is working to improve its sexual assault prevention practices. 

Other students criticized the university's current sexual assault prevention measures and student training as ineffective.

Graduate student Malachi Petersen noted that student assault-prevention training is referred to as mandatory, but there are no real consequences for students who don't bother to participate. 

"Certainly, we could maybe make phone calls to make sure students are completing the training, but currently we don't have a hold on an account or anything like that," Grieve replied. "But we highly encourage students to do the training, we want them to complete the training." 

Students condemned other aspects of the university's sexual assault prevention policies, including a video shown to most incoming students that uses tea as a metaphor for sexual consent. In the video, if a person consents to coming over for tea, it's acceptable to give them tea -- but if a person says no to tea, it's best to not force them to drink tea, and likewise if the person is unconscious. 

The video, students complained, does not treat the subject of sexual consent seriously, making it seem almost laughable. University officials said the video is no longer being shown as part of the training, as the administration reforms its training efforts.

In addition to Grieve, panel members included Tena Haraldson, director of communications and vice president of marketing at USD; Dave Herbster, athletic director; Deb Robertson, coordinator of mental health services; and Kara Iverson, USD's Title IX director.

USD President Jim Abbott was in the crowd, but did not participate on the panel.


Lifestyles reporter

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