University reinforces commitment to sexual assault prevention, expands education, support programs
Needing 1,029 signatures on an online petition, two-thirds of a student vote and a reallocation of Student Union advertising funds, S.A.R.A.H.—the Sexual Assault and Rape Anonymous Helpline—managed to meet each requirement last semester in order to receive block funding to continue the group’s operations. However, that procedure will not be necessary moving forward, as Washington University announced on Monday that permanent funding will be allocated to the student-run helpline.
The change is just one among many in a large expansion of staffing and funding for sexual assault prevention programs and crisis services on campus. The changes, which also include a new research initiative to assess and improve sexual assault prevention methods, are intended to educate students and could have a national effect on how campus sexual assault is addressed.
The new education and prevention resources come as a result of recommendations made by the Sexual Assault & Relationship Violence Task Force, which was headed by Provost Holden Thorp and Sharon Stahl, vice chancellor for students emerita, as well as data from the American Association of Universities Campus Climate (AAU) survey, conducted in 2015.
Among new staff positions, funding measures and programming changes—in addition to permanent S.A.R.A.H. funding—are an additional Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center counselor serving LGBTQIA* students as well as other marginalized communities; two additional Title IX staff members; permanent funding for “The Date,” a student-driven skit and facilitation put on during Bear Beginnings to educate incoming students about sexual assault and relationship violence; and more programming targeted towards fraternity men and athletes.
“I hope that as people see us continue to reaffirm our commitment to [sexual assault prevention] that they’ll see how serious this is for us and hopefully take that seriously for themselves,” Thorp said. “It’s not just the Title IX coordinator in her office. It’s education, it’s support, it’s prevention.”
Director of the RSVP Center Kim Webb echoed Thorp’s call for education, support and prevention, and said she believes each to be important for changing campus culture moving forward.
“Our goal is to stop the violence from happening and the only way we’re going to do that is to put money and effort into prevention and education,” Webb said. “There’s money in a lot of different areas, but I think if we focus on prevention and education, we truly have the opportunity to affect change.”
Junior and co-president of Leaders in Interpersonal Violence Education (LIVE) Michael Collins noted that the expansions marked a commitment from the University toward more than just students’ academic well-being.
“I think what this commitment does from the University is it does show that the health and wellness of their students is something that affects the University at an administrative level,” Collins said. “Specifically with the LGBTQIA* focused counselor, it shows that the University when they do a survey, when they do a task force, it might take several years, but they get to it.”
Many around campus expressed thanks and excitement for the changes, hoping that they could combat the toxic campus culture portrayed in the AAU data and the campus rape documentary “The Hunting Ground,” released in 2015.
For the changes to their own funding structures, S.A.R.A.H. expressed gratitude and determination in a statement made to Student Life.
“We are so appreciative of the University taking initiative and providing us with permanent funding,” the statement reads. “We want to focus all our efforts on being a support resource for survivors and this permanent funding will allow us the time to focus more intently on improving ourselves as a resource.”
Austin Sweeney, a sexual and relationship violence prevention specialist and Green Dot bystander intervention trainer, was similarly thankful for the expanded programming in bystander intervention programs.
“I’m really glad to see [a focus on bystander intervention] because the survey results that came out last year from the AAU findings showed a real need for increased attention to bystander intervention education,” Sweeney said. “So the fact that the folks that are implementing these changes—the administration—kind of looked at that and said we need to make sure we’re continuing to put funding and additional resources into the bystander stuff is really important.”
Going forward, Collins felt that the methods undertaken by the task force set a precedent for students to follow when trying to achieve campus change.
“I think it really does show that for student activists, you need to have data,” Collins said. “Feelings and all that, those are very valuable but you have to quantify them.”
Not everyone on campus felt that the changes were targeted correctly, however. One graduate student, a survivor of sexual assault who has been through the sanctions process, felt that the University was neglecting to focus on the flaws in the support systems for students going through the sanctions process.
“I think adding the LGBTQIA* stuff, that’s great but really what they need is a response system that offers more services to students that are victims of sexual assault,” she said. “I think the priority should be taking care of survivors. I think prevention is important, and I think education is important, and the research initiative is great but maybe get your ducks in a row before you start doing this research project.”
The student added that the University should focus on expanding counseling resources specifically for survivors of sexual assault throughout the healing process.
Sweeney noted that the additional staffing and expanded resources by themselves would not end sexual assault on the University’s campus, but that the steps were a start to come together as a campus community and combat the issue.
“As we know, these issues of sexual assault and relationship violence are so pervasive and woven into the culture of college campuses that I think that solving the problem, you don’t just get to check boxes for hiring new staff members,” Sweeney said. “To work against these issues and to ultimately prevent violence on campus, staffing is important, but I think what will be as important or maybe more important is how the additional staffing will work to mobilize and support our campus.”
Webb echoed Sweeney’s sentiment, encouraged by the measure for its potential to change the campus culture and put students’ needs first.
“It can’t stop here,” Webb said. “It’s important that we continue to grow and continue to assess and listen to the needs of our students.”
Additional reporting by Ella Chochrek.