COSA reorganizes under new name
Continues efforts to hire sexual violence coordinator
Washington University’s umbrella organization for sexual assault prevention and education has reorganized itself under new leadership after a semester-and-a-half hiatus and for the first time has set a budget to support its efforts.
The Advisory Committee on Sexual Violence and Prevention—which replaces the Committee on Sexual Assault (COSA)—comprises of students, faculty and administrators involved in efforts to support victims and promote education to reduce the incidence of rape on campus.
Appointed by Chancellor Mark Wrighton, the new committee chairs are Lecturer in Humanities Jami Ake and Associate Dean of Students Jill Stratton.
“Ake had chaired COSA in the past, and Stratton has significant expertise in the area and they both have a passion for the issue,” said Alan Glass, director of Student Health Services (SHS). “They’re also both the kinds of people who are very task-focused and tend to accomplish things in an efficient and well-thought-out manner.”
In the past, members of COSA were appointed annually by former Assistant Vice Chancellor Karen Coburn. When Coburn retired last year, that responsibility fell to Glass. This choice was made in an attempt to restructure the committee instead of reappointing members within the same framework.
Through meetings with 20 members of the sexual violence prevention movement on campus, Glass took several months to evaluate COSA’s efforts and to secure funding for the new group’s operations.
“I got the sense that COSA had done some great work but that this might be an opportunity to take that committee to the next level,” Glass said.
Among other things, the reorganized committee hopes to draw upon its budget for programming and administrative support and to engage its own members as well as the rest of the University community.
“I really want to increase awareness about the problem of sexual assault because I feel like it is a huge problem on this campus that students just don’t know about,” said junior Jimmy Cox, one of the students on the committee. “Students and faculty alike just don’t know about the huge numbers that afflict the University.”
In addition to Stratton and Ake, the committee contains 15 other members, including Glass, SHS psychologist Craig Woodsmall, Director of Judicial Programs Tamara King, Chief of Police Don Strom, three undergraduate student leaders, one graduate student, one law school student, three faculty members and others.
At some point, COSA became a group of close to 30 members, according to Stratton, which decentralized the work and process of the committee.
“I can’t remember a time when COSA was all in the room,” Stratton said. “We have a smaller group, and we hope to make a more focused and larger impact.”
The new committee assembled for the first time last Tuesday to begin formulating its specific agenda.
“This wasn’t inventing anything new. It was just to make sure that everyone who does this kind of work in the University is at the same table,” Ake said.
In the past, COSA served primarily to guide the efforts of other groups involved with the sexual assault prevention and education movement. One of its most significant achievements was the completion of a comprehensive survey about sexual violence at the University demonstrating that rates of sexual assault incidence at the University match those measured nationally and that more than 90 percent of cases go unreported.
COSA was also responsible for submitting an annual report on campus sexual violence to higher-level administration.
Going forward, a central focus of the new committee will be to continue working toward the creation of a unified office for sexual assault prevention and education efforts. The committee will also advise Glass and others involved in the hiring process of the prevention director. Once the position is filled, the committee will serve as that person’s advising board.
The effort to implement the position goes back many years through Coburn’s work, but gained prominence after the Myers incident in 2007. In the spring of 2007, the Student Union Senate passed a resolution supporting the creation of the post and, because the resolution had not been sent to administrators, it was passed again in the fall of 2007.
Most recently, a job description for the new director-level position has been written and is pending approval before hiring can take place.
According to Glass, the University is looking to take a community health perspective toward sexual assault prevention and, consequently, two of the biggest requirements for candidates are a master’s in public health and experience in the areas of sexual assault and relationship violence.
“This person needs to have enough expertise and experience that they’re going to be able to address some of the issues that faculty might bring up, but the person has to have the ability to work with students,” Glass said. “A piece of the responsibility is going to be working with student groups who will hopefully continue to be engaged with working with the issues.”
No timeline has been set for filling the position, but Wrighton and Vice Chancellor for Students James McLeod have spoken publicly about the position’s importance and have suggested the hiring process will go forward in spite of the tight economy.
“We have only one chance to do this, so I’m very concerned that we do it the right way,” Glass said.
Wrighton said that although the University is trying to hire a coordinator, the responsibility of preventing sexual assault lies with the members of the student body.
“Part of the responsibility, as I see it, still rests with the members of the community themselves. I’m referring to students,” Wrighton said. “I think a lot of the challenges we face in the community stem from what seems to me to be a high and unfortunate level of incidents of alcohol abuse.”