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Guidance for Academic Departments Wanting to Hold a Town Hall

  1. We encourage departments to be survivor-centered.
    1. Is the person(s) requesting the event the person who is primarily impacted (as opposed to someone who is trying to provide support)?
      1. Must first and foremost meet the needs of the primarily impacted person(s).
      2. Open public forums talking about events that directly impacted them tend to alienate survivors. This is why we tend to discourage them.
      3. If you are considering requesting this type of event, ask the survivor(s) what they need first. If you do not have a relationship with them, ask someone who does to consult them.
        1. Examples of appropriate questions: “What do you need to support your healing?” “How can the department be of assistance to you, within the limitations of our relationship?” “Would you like to be connected to a confidential advocate to talk these questions through first?”
    2. Make sure the survivor knows about the resources for confidential support. Do this first. Send people to the Care Line or connect them to an appointment with the PATH to Care Center.
      1. Examples of how to suggest this: “I recently learned about the 24/7 confidential advocate service on campus. Can I share that information with you?” “Would it be helpful to speak with someone who is a confidential resource?”
  2. If you believe you have done everything you can to support the people who are primarily impacted, then it is appropriate to move on to addressing the concerns of the secondarily impacted people. If you are not sure that the primarily impacted people are fully supported, do not hold a public forum.

  3. Make sure not to over-promise outcomes to your community. Do not commit to an event such as a town hall or forum without reflection and consultation with departmental leadership and campus experts, such as the PATH To Care Center. While a town hall style event is a frequent go-to idea for addressing SVSH issues in a community, spending more time consulting with leadership and experts, in partnership with your community, can help you better assess whether this is truly a good fit for your community right now.

  4. Clarify your goals. Then determine if the event you are proposing is the best method to reach your department goals. Some examples of goals can include:
    1. Ensuring that the discussion is trauma-informed
    2. Ensuring that a variety of voices are heard and respected
    3. Community collaboration in the development or implementation of the event
    4. Upholding some level of community accountability for culture change
  5. If the event you are proposing is the best first step, here are some guidelines to hosting a survivor-centered, trauma-informed town hall.
    1. Ensure that the event is designed in collaboration with the people primarily impacted
    2. Leave enough time to plan the event so that you can consult with leadership and campus experts on structure and content.
    3. Make sure you inform your community well in advance, so people can opt in or opt out.
    4. If your goal is about having the community come together to make a commitment to not tolerating SVSH, make sure that the event is held at a time and location that makes it most easily accessible to the widest possible audience, to get maximum community buy in.
    5. Mandating attendance to education workshops can create resistance to culture change.
    6. Make sure that the organizers and facilitators know how to connect attendees to the PATH to Care Care Line, so that they can get immediate confidential support.
    7. Set community agreements for the conversation to create a greater feeling of safety and support and decrease the chances of harm.
    8. Provide an anonymous evaluation form so that attendees can give you feedback about their experiences of the event.
    9. Communicate about next steps to the group, so they know where this discussion will go next.
    10. Having seasoned facilitators who can manage difficult conversations and ensure that a multiplicity of voices are heard is essential to the success of this type of event.
  6. If a town hall is not the best fit, or if you’ve done a town hall and want to move the conversation further, consider:
    1. A restorative justice process, working with the PATH To Care Center and the Restorative Justice Center, and/or the Division of Equity and Inclusion
    2. An ombuds process through the Ombuds Office (staff or students). This would not be an appropriate venue for addressing sexual assault, but would be an appropriate resource to help facilitate conversations about harassment.
    3. Make a commitment to a departmental culture of prevention. Here are some ways the PATH to Care Center can help you:
      1. Set-up a consultation meeting with the PATH to Care Center to discuss what you can do
      2. Request a tailored workshop on prevention and response, focusing on dialogue in your community
      3. Apply for a social norms seed grant for your community
      4. Commit your department to completing our Toolkit for Preventing Harassment in Academic Departments
      5. Host an in-department, in-person SVSH training for all new graduate students, facilitated by current students, with the support of our Train the Trainer program.