Administration fights sexual assault by calling for a change in attitude, policy
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 02:10
The Miami University administration has updated its policy regarding sexual assault in response to the ongoing prevalence of this crime across college campuses.
However, according to President David Hodge, there is no easy answer.
“This is one of those things where there is no silver bullet, there is no way to go in and say we’ll do this and it’ll be done,” Hodge said.
Hodge sent an email Sept. 18 to all students and faculty reminding them of, “our obligation to foster and maintain an environment that is free of harassment, discrimination and sexual violence.”
Hodge said there is a multifaceted plan in the works that includes an updated Policy Prohibiting Harassment and Discrimination, an updated Sex-Based Offense Protocol and will garner support and momentum from the “I Am Miami” campaign.
The policy changes and expansions come from a portion of the Violence Against Women Act that Congress passed last fall that called for universities to report domestic violence, dating violence and stalking just as they do sexual assault. The act will become effective in March 2014.
“We have begun early compliance with that act,” Miami’s general council, Robin Parker, said. “It essentially asks universities to address domestic violence, dating violence and stalking in the same way that we address sexual assault.”
According to Miami’s sexual assault response coordinator, Rebecca Getson, Miami had already been informally, in terms of submitting police reports, responding to domestic violence, dating violence and stalking cases but this was not in writing.
“I know when I came on board, one of the things that I was interested in doing was including those kind of pieces as well,” Getson said. “The big thing was actually putting in writing the things we were doing.”
The policy side, or the response side, is only half of the issue. There is also the preventative side of sex-based offenses. This is where the “I Am Miami” campaign and bystander intervention education come in.
Melissa Auringer is the coordinator of women’s services at the Student Counseling Center and is an advocate for this education.
“Bystander intervention is really encouraging students to look out for each other,” Auringer, said. “This idea of what happens to one of us, happens to all of us and we want to be proactive in supporting each other and preventing these things from happening.”
Building that sense of community will, administrators hope, foster a truly safe environment.
“We will be linking ‘I Am Miami’ with bystander intervention education because, as Miamians and as part of the community, together we can prevent that violence and we can help each other respond to and prevent things like this,” Getson said.
This is another step forward for Miami in combating sexual assault since last year’s infamous “Top Ten Ways to Get Away With Rape” flier rocked the university. At that time, Miami did not have a full time sexual assault response coordinator.
Since then, the university has hired Getson, who is employed full-time, and is pushing initiatives, like “I Am Miami,” that will further educate on how to prevent and respond to sexual assault.
“As this has continued to evolve, we have come to understand that we need to be more explicit and more complete in our education around these matters,” Hodge said.
The changes in code, the inclusion of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking in the new sex-based offense protocol, according to Parker, are a big part of this evolution.
“We have, kind of from soup to nuts, overhauled the way we approach it to be much more intentional about making sure all of the bases are covered,” Parker said. “We were doing it before but I think in a less transparent and prescribed way.”
Parker also responded to student concerns that the university was dismissing the issue of sexual assault after the students arrived for their first year.
“The ‘I Am Miami’ will be that ongoing information and education campaign,” Parker said. “So for the students that said ‘I just heard about it before I came or when I came and then nothing after,’ the I Am Miami campaign will be that.”
These recent initiatives and expansions, administrators believe, will be key to uniting Miami’s campus and, in turn, making it a safer one.
“This has to be a comprehensive movement forward in terms of clarifying expectations for everybody,” Hodge said. “And that’s why the ‘I Am Miami’ activities are so important, because they help connect us.”