Sexal assault commission names subcommittees



Students were packing for Thanksgiving break. They piled up their dirty laundry and reluctantly placed books in their backpacks.

Ding. An email.

As students prepared to leave, they read an email about two alleged forcible rapes that occurred in residence halls over the previous two weeks.

The campus-wide email detailed the different resources a student has available to them at Butler, as well as including tips about staying safe.

This email is another reminder to students, faculty and staff that sexual assault is an issue on campuses across the nation.

Butler University’s Presidential Commission on Sexual Assault released the names of the people who will make up the seven different subcommittees in mid-November.

President James Danko initially formed the commission in April, and Provost Kate Morris was named its head.

The commission’s goal is to end sexual violence at Butler through efforts centered on assessment, education and prevention, according to the Nov. 14 email.

Five months later, the commission asked the campus community for volunteers to serve on the different subcommittees.

Now, two months after that, the subcommittees have selected members from all six colleges and a variety of departments from across campus.

Sarah Barnes Diaz, the coordinator for health education and outreach programs, said she wanted to bring her subcommittee up to speed.

“We have had 50 to 60 different programs or trainings about sexual assault this semester,” she said. “But people still don’t know about everything we are doing.”

The process has taken eight months to get off the ground and Diaz said some students are in the dark about what is going on concerning sexual assault on campus.

“Some students have no idea what we have been doing,” Diaz said. “If they do not hear about something, they assume it is not being done, which is not the case. I am immersed in this all the time, but not everyone is, so we have to identify those gaps and address them.”

Some subcommittees are starting to meet, a month after learning their teammates. Some subcommittees will meet after winter break.

In an email, Morris said the commission has a lot of work left to do. In previous statements, she said it was intentional to wait to ask for volunteers.

Morris said the wide array of people on the committees will help ensure all of campus is represented.

Each subcommittee has a leader who is also on the steering committee, which oversees the work of the entire commission.

Morris and Ann Savage, a communication professor, are in charge of the steering committee. They are joined by senior Austin Del Priore, the vice president of administration for the Student Government Association, and senior Zoe Castellano, a member of Demia— the feminist and social justice organization on campus.

Del Priore said it is a big job, but he is excited to be on the steering committee and see and hear from all the subcommittees.

“Sexual assault is a multi-faceted issue,” he said. “It would be detrimental to think about just one thing. We have to think about how society makes or allows or even promotes rape culture and then how we can change those perceptions.”

Del Priore said the mixture of people on the different subcommittees will increase the effectiveness of the commission.

“It affects everyone, all genders, races, Greeks, independents, athletes,” he said.

“The provost’s office had a concerted effort to make sure a diversity of perspectives were heard.”

One of the  subcommittees is charged with discovering and analyzing the perceptions about sexual assault on Butler’s campus.

Alison O’Malley, an assistant psychology professor, is the chair of the campus climate assessment subcommittee.

She and her team met for the first time last week to discuss their priorities and first steps.

The group will be designing and implementing a survey to generate a baseline understanding on what campus perceptions are about sexual assault and institutional support.

“We are not trying to reinvent the wheel,” O’Malley said. “It is not hard to do a survey. It is hard to do a good survey.”

O’Malley said she is most concerned with making sure campus is represented fairly and accurately in order for it to be based in science.

“This is an incredibly important issue,” she said. “We must act with urgency and with the best practices we can to create positive change.”

Her goal is to have data to report by the end of the spring semester.

However, the other subcommittees will continue to move forward while data is still being collected.

Diaz is the co-chair of the co-curricular programming and training for students subcommittee, which will create effective programming to educate students. 

This subcommittee met last week. Diaz said the meeting focused on introducing everyone and setting priorities.

She said planning is still in the infant stages, but Welcome Week programming is one of the time-sensitive priorities since contracts have to be signed soon.

The group compared Butler’s efforts to government requirements and peer institutions. Diaz said Butler might need more staffing and resources in order to own all of the initiatives the group wants to employ.

Diaz said she is excited to work with the people on her team because they come to the table with so much knowledge while still knowing there is a lot to learn.

“I am so excited that this group is at the table,” she said. “There are some great human beings and, more than that, they are great thinkers and great doers.”

Diaz also said the mix of different people will bring new ideas to the table, since there is no one single strategy that is going to be effective.

She said the subcommittee will work closely with other committees to help them be successful, such as getting specific data from the campus climate group or working with the communications and media group to keep campus in the loop.

Junior Dylan Menefee is one of the student representatives on the communications and messaging subcommittee which will work with all the other groups.

The chemistry major is the public relations chair for Sigma Nu, which he thinks will help him when the subcommittee begins to try to reach campus.

“You have got social and academic sides of the spectrum in terms of our audience,” Menefee said. “Some will never hear it, and some will have it pounded in their ears. Our message has got to be full circle, so I hope we create a forum to do that.”

He said the group will be the final filter for what goes out to the campus. The focus will not be to create a brand, but to localize the issue.

Menefee applied to be on the council because he felt he was qualified and he is passionate about the topic.

“It comes down to that I do not like how it manifests,” he said. “It turns into a situation we cannot control. We don’t have these conversations early enough in our lives, and we do not have a forum to talk about it. I am really excited to be a part of a clear committee where my work is geared toward helping.”

This subcommittee has not met yet, but Menefee said he would love to see Butler play a powerful part in the national movement.

Diaz also wants to see Butler students make a change on a larger scale.

“I want students to make changes in their own lives and look out for their peers and take it out into the world and help chip away at some of the perpetuating issues,” she said. “We do not need a commission. We need committed people who want to achieve something.”

Castellano said the commission will make a big change on Butler’s campus, especially with the students playing a part in the discussion.

“I think it is going to be beautiful,” she said. “There has been a lack of communication. Students feel as if they have been forgotten, but faculty are not as in the loop as we think they are.”

Castellano said it is important for the subcommittees to work together to amplify the message.

“I want everyone to be made aware of what is going on on-campus,” she said. “I want to have a united front at the end of next semester in the best case scenario.”