The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault released a report on Tuesday aimed at helping colleges and universities address, respond to, and prevent sexual assault on campus. The report includes guidelines for how these institutions can identify the climate surrounding sexual violence on their campuses, employ prevention programs, ensure that victims get the support they need, and investigate crimes.
This report adds to and, in some cases, clarifies guidelines set forth in April 2011 by the Dear Colleague letter addressing the Title IX requirements related to sexual harassment and sexual violence. Since the release of this letter, complaints regarding sexual assault on campus have increased, according to an article in The Boston Globe on Tuesday. On Thursday, the U.S. government released the names of 55 colleges and universities currently under investigation for their treatment of sexual violence issues and complaints on campus. The Boston-area schools on the list are Harvard College, Harvard Law School, Boston University, Amherst College, Emerson College, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Dean of Students Paul Chebator and Student Title IX Coordinator Katie O’Dair both said that Boston College is often ahead of the curve when it comes to addressing sexual assault on campus, and that BC is already in compliance with many of the guidelines listed in Tuesday’s report.
The report mentions bystander training, which BC has been using for several years, and which, according to Chebator, all first-year students will go through next year. It also suggests that universities have trained advocates, and that the institution and the surrounding community work together. Chebator pointed to the Sexual Assault Network (SANet), which has been at BC for over 20 years, as a way in which BC does both of these things. Those working at SANet have been trained by people on campus in conjunction with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC).
“I think one of the areas that the report mentioned that we are perhaps not so far ahead on is the climate survey piece,” Chebator said. This survey, which the report recommends that schools administer to students yearly in order to gauge the culture surrounding sexual assault on campus, is one of the things O’Dair says the sexual assault steering committee at BC will think carefully about in the coming months.
The steering committee includes representatives from BCPD, the Dean of Students Office (DSO), Human Resources, Residential Life, the Office of Health Promotion, and the General Counsel’s Office. “It really is a comprehensive group that oversees various aspects of our prevention, education, and response to sexual violence,” O’Dair said.
The committee will review the White House report in depth to ensure that BC is doing everything it can in regard to sexual assault on campus. Although O’Dair is confident that BC is fully compliant with Title IX, she is aware that when it comes to handling issues of sexual assault, there is always more that can be done.
A new position, entitled the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Coordinator, has just been approved within the division of Student Affairs, and they hope to post the job within the next week and have someone hired and fully trained by the fall. In addition, they plan to have a sexual assault resource center on campus this fall that is entirely separate from the Women’s Center (formerly the Women’s Resource Center), where these resources were typically found. O’Dair hopes that, by creating a separate place, men who are in need of help will not be discouraged from seeking it.
“It’s not that men couldn’t access it before, but when it’s in the Women’s Center, that sends a message,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that all students, regardless of gender, felt that the resources are available to them, and they are.”
The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Coordinator will oversee this new center, as well as SANet and the Bystander Intervention program.
In addition, BC will continue to train adults on campus on how to respond if a student discloses to them any information regarding a sexual assault. Their goal is to ensure that all adults can connect students with the proper resources. To this end, they have reached out not only to faculty, but also to other adults on campus such as the Information Technology department and the facilities housekeeping staff who work in residence halls.
The DSO, along with the Women’s Center and the Office of Health Promotion, yearly update a pamphlet entitled “You are Not Alone” which outlines BC’s Sexual Violence policies and resources. All of this information is also available online at www.bc.edu/sar.
“We like to think other schools go to our site to see how we’ve arranged things, and we spend a lot of time making sure that if a student goes to the website that it’s clear, easy to follow, and the information is readily available,” O’Dair said.