The Class of ’12 Reflects on ASAP Workshops

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

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


  1. The workshops are designed to be nonoffensive to all parties because there are many, like me, who are offended by traditional stereotypes of sexual assault. Furthermore, it marginalizes, devalued, and puts students at risk if they are aware only of “man rapes woman and beats her to a bloody pulp” sexual assault.

  2. Yes, Will brings up a good point. I also told my interviewer that a major reason why the ground rules of non-assumptive language is to challenge and combat traditional stereotypes and assumptions about sexual assault. I absolutely agree with Will. ASAP would be doing students a disservice if we allowed sole focus on the “man sexually assaults woman” scenario.

  3. The main thing that I didn’t like about ASAP was when one of the discussion leaders said (and I have spoken with current ASAP people who told me they were instructed to say the same) that she was going to tell us some stories of sexual abuse (or something along those lines, don’t remember the actual wording) but instructed us NOT TO QUESTION whether the story she was telling us constitutes sexual abuse, BECAUSE IT DOES.

    I’m not saying I had a specific problem with any of the stories or think that they necessarily weren’t sexual abuse, I just have a problem with that level of blatant indoctrination, specifically telling people something and then instructing them not to give it any thought for themselves.

    What is sexual abuse anyway? Obviously the specifics are defined by laws, institutional rules, or what have you, but any of these are subject to change in response to societal mores shaped by thoughtful discussion and reevaluation. I’m not saying I think sexual abuse laws should be more lenient or anything, in fact I would have the exact same objection if they told us stories that they deemed NOT sexual abuse and commanded us not to question if perhaps we thought that they were. I just think it isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) very Swarthmore-like to have such a one-sided discussion geared toward unthinking indoctrination.

  4. The ASAP workshops were certainly necessary…though I wish my facilitators had more throughly covered the increased danger of sexual assault when alcohol is present. The infamous “date-rape” drug, for example, was not mentioned until I brought it up as the meeting was about to conclude.

    All in all, the workshop was very informative (and uncomfortable), but I feel that it still has room for improvement.

  5. The reason that students are asked not to question whether or not they constitute sexual assault is that the students who were kind enough to give testimonials may still be on campus and, speaking from experience, it is the worst feeling in the world to have your story questioned.

    In addition, the facilitators asked that testimonials not be questioned, but questioning is different from discussing. Reactions and feelings are always welcome, but we do not want to make students who gave testimonials of a very traumatic experience feel invalidated or unsupported.

    As always, any student who would like to make recommendations or carry on this discussion is welcome to contact any ASAP facilitator. My email is whopkin1.

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