Presidential Commission on Sexual Assault prepares recommendations

MATTHEW VANTRYON | MANAGING EDITOR

Butler University President James Danko announced the creation of the Presidential Commission on Sexual Assault last April, and the commission will present recommendations to Danko by the end of the school year concerning how to address the issue of sexual assault on campus moving forward.

A commission steering committee provided oversight of seven subcommittees. Provost Kathryn Morris was the chair of the steering committee, and reported directly to Danko throughout the year as the committee progressed.

The commission was comprised of the following seven sub-committees:

  •      Campus climate assessment
  •      Co-curricular programming and training for students
  •      Training for faculty, staff and student employees
  •      Curricular initiatives
  •      Survivor advocacy
  •      Policy, compliance and political advocacy
  •      Communications and messaging

Campus Climate Assessment:

The campus climate assessment released a sexual assault survey to the campus community last week in order to gauge students’ knowledge of sexual assault and their involvement level towards prevention. Alison O’Malley, assistant professor of psychology and chair of the campus climate assessment committee, said the subcommittee adapted surveys that already existed, then tailored and combined them to fit Butler’s needs.

She said she is pleased with the finished product, but that participation is essential.

“It is absolutely essential that we hear from people,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how self-satisfied we are with the items if we don’t hear from people.

“We must hear from a multitude of voices to get a truer picture of what the variability in our population looks like.”

She said more people continue to take the survey.

“The response rate is increasing every day, which is a very good trend,” she said. “We are having more and more people to get involved. I’m nudging people I know to tell the people they know to take it. Maybe it’s a little unusual to have this much dialogue about a survey, but this is a really important survey.”

O’Malley said she hopes the survey shows where the campus stands on the issue so the university knows where to go moving forward.

“This is a baseline survey,” she said. “It’s not a one-and-done, it can’t be a one-and-done. We’re starting from all different places, and that is OK. That is to be expected. But maybe with targeted interventions this data can provide, we can create a stronger climate.

Morris said the commission will recommend sending a similar type survey every other year in order to continue keeping a pulse on students’ view of sexual assault.

The subcommittee will analyze the data collected from the survey in May. How and when the data will be presented is yet to be determined.

Co-curricular programming and training for students:

Sarah Diaz, victim advocate and coordinator of health education and outreach programs, is a co-chair of the co-curricular programming subcommittee. She said much of the subcommittee’s efforts have centered around ensuring that the university is adequately equipped to provide sexual assault prevention, both through funding and staffing.

Diaz is currently the only person in charge of sexual assault prevention on campus. She said that growing programs, while continuing to have only one staff member handle an increased workload, could decrease the quality of work in other areas.

“Continuing to have one person take on really significant campus climate topics such as alcohol and others drugs, sexual health promotion, sexual violence prevention, and asking that person to do more with no more, could shift the issue to other areas,” she said.

Morris said she thinks Butler is understaffed compared to other institutions.

“From the data I have seen, looking at what our peer and aspirant institutions do and what we do, we have less,” she said. “There’s room for improvement there.”

Diaz said she hopes a task force is formed to address sexual violence, and she said there are staff and faculty members who would be glad to step into that role.

“I have come to learn of several very committed faculty and staff members who really want to be involved,” she said. “But I think it’s also needed that there’s someone overseeing everything on our campus as it relates to sexual violence and prevention, intervention support and policy.

“I think we have a lot of pockets of strong areas of commitment, and we need to come together to start tackling these issues.”

Diaz also said maintaining and increasing funding is essential.

“With no additional funding, it is a little bit difficult to make sure we’re providing students with adequate training,” she said.

Morris said funds have been allocated for a variety of purposes.

“Thus far, we have allocated about $55,000 toward efforts related to sexual assault,” she said in an email. “These funds include a one-time allocation for administration of the sexual assault survey, as well as annual allocations for training and education for students, faculty, and staff.  There are a variety of training and education programs we will be able to continue or initiate next fall.”

Funding has been secured for a variety of prevention programs that already exist on campus:

  •   A pre-arrival prevention education tool addressing alcohol, other drugs, healthy relationships, and sexual assault
  •   Sex signals, an educational program for new and returning students
  •   Bystander intervention training (using the C.A.R.E. model)
  •   Stand Tall peer educator training
  •   A prevention program for key student groups including fraternities, sororities and off-campus students

Training for faculty, staff and student-employees:

Morris said funding has been secured for an online training module for faculty and staff that will be implemented at the beginning of next school year. She also said there are goals for having faculty and staff fellows who are professional experts that can come and speak in the classroom and at events.

Curricular Initiatives:

Curricular initiatives subcommittee chair Terri Carney said one of the goals of the subcommittee was to implement a diversity requirement in place as part of the Core Curriculum.

Carney said it goes beyond Global Historical Studies courses or foreign language courses.

“It’s more than just learning about other cultures, which is an important part of diversity,” she said. “It’s more about learning a framework of analyzing through the oppressed, minority or groups that are not normative.”

Carney said the goal is to study why people have been marginalized over time.

“It’s more than just identifying, ‘What is it like to be gay or what is it like to be poor?’ It’s more about studying the systems in place in our institutions and our habits that disproportionately marginalize people over and over again,” she said.

The core curriculum committee has approved the proposal. The faculty senate will vote on it, and Carney said it could go into effect for the fall 2017 incoming freshman class.

Carney also said there is a goal to establish a group of social justice diversity fellows who would ensure that courses are fulfilling the goals of the requirement.

“They would oversee this area of the core so it doesn’t get watered down unwittingly or inadvertently,” she said. “It’s not enough to have a country’s name in the title (of the course). We’re hoping to keep a rigorous level by having these diversity fellows in place.”

Survivor advocacy:

Morris said one of the recommendations the commission will make is to create a center that will address a variety of concerns surrounding sexual assault.

“We will be recommending that we create some sort of a center, whether that be a crisis center or a safe-house center, a center that can integrate prevention, support when a case does occur, all of the right messaging, safe spaces for people to be in and can integrate academic work,” she said.

She said it could help survivors in a variety of situations.

“If somebody has just recently experienced an assault and is feeling unsafe, or if they have experienced an assault longer ago and for whatever reason it’s triggered to be an issue for them again, a physical space could be a safe space,” she said.

However, she said one of the issues with creating a center is that it requires both funding and staffing.

“There’s a lot of different ways we can bring together into a center, but that requires a physical staff and people to staff it, and that’s a pretty big institutional commitment,” she said.

Policy, compliance and political advocacy:

Claire Aigotti, member of the General Counsel and chair of the policy, compliance and political advocacy subcommittee, has been looking at the Civil Rights Equity Grievance Policy and at how situations between students might differ from those between faculty and staff members, and making sure plans are in place that “conceptually make sense for those populations,” Morris said.

“What happens when two students are involved in something might be very different than what happens when two faculty or staff members are entwined in a situation,” Morris said.

Communications and messaging:

Morris said the communications and messaging subcommittee is a “support committee for everything else.” The committee has been working on a comprehensive website that would combine all of the university’s sexual assault resources in one location.

What happens next:

The commission’s future is uncertain. Morris said it has not been decided whether the commission will continue to exist in its current form after Danko receives the list of the commission’s recommendations.

“We have made a strong recommendation that there be some sort of committee or work group that continues on,” she said. “Whether it is the commission as it currently exists or something else is still up for discussion.”

Danko was unavailable for comment.

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