The University of Virginia is building on its past efforts to address sexual misconduct among students by launching several new initiatives this fall. These efforts coincide with a White House report that calls on institutions of higher education to increase efforts to address sexual assault on campuses.
U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan and representatives of the Office of Student Affairs and Office of the General Counsel on Friday briefed members of the Board of Visitors on the University’s efforts, which have included a new reporting policy applicable to all employees, a public awareness campaign empowering bystanders and the hosting of a national conference at U.Va. last February.
“The ultimate goal in all of our efforts is to make this University as safe as possible,” Sullivan said. “The issue of sexual misconduct on college campuses has received a great deal of national attention recently. We have been focused intently on this issue for some time, and we will continue to focus on the safety of our students.”
Friday’s board session also included a panel discussion featuring current University students, who have been active both in establishing advocacy groups and in working with University officials to craft recently launched education and awareness campaigns that involve the University community and partnerships with nearby merchants.
“The Board of Visitors requested this comprehensive briefing and discussion because of the importance of the issue in the University community and beyond,” Rector George Keith Martin said. “Sexual misconduct has no place at U.Va. or anywhere in society, and these actions are important steps.”
Momentum has grown nationally for addressing sexual assault on campuses, with both the White House and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe unveiling efforts to raise awareness and spark action at the college and university level.
In April, the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault issued its initial report, “Not Alone.” The report addressed three areas in which institutions of higher education should concentrate efforts, including some specific recommendations.
In recent months, the University of Virginia has taken steps in each of the areas identified in the “Not Alone” report:
• Identifying the problem: Reflecting the report’s recommendation, U.Va. will conduct a “climate survey” in the spring, working in concert with its peers in the Association of American Universities. With research showing many instances of sexual misconduct going unreported, climate surveys are designed to fill in information gaps between official statistics and trends occurring on campuses. They also give universities a chance to assess the level of understanding students have about an institution’s policies, procedures and options for seeking help. Earlier this year, the University hosted a two-day summit intended to launch a national discussion among higher education communities on the complexities surrounding sexual misconduct among college students.
• Sexual assault prevention: Timed with the start of the academic year – a high-risk period for sexual misconduct – Sullivan launched “Not on Our Grounds,” a U.Va. initiative dedicated to ending sexual violence through a series of awareness campaigns and prevention efforts. The initial component, called “Hoos Got Your Back,” is a bystander-education effort featuring a partnership with merchants in the Corner district that is popular with students. It urges people to become more aware of potentially dangerous situations around them – if someone seems to be attempting to take advantage of a person who has consumed too much alcohol, for example – and shows them how to intervene effectively.
• Responding effectively to incidents: The University also recently adopted a policy requiring most employees to report an instance of student sexual misconduct if it is disclosed to them. Under the new policy, each faculty and staff member is now considered either a “Responsible Employee” or a “Confidential Employee” for reporting purposes. Most employees are considered Responsible Employees and are now required to report information learned about an incident of sexual misconduct to the University’s Title IX coordinator. Employees who are in health care or counseling positions are considered Confidential Employees, and are not required to report to the Title IX coordinator. The University will also revise its sexual misconduct policy in the coming months in response to guidance from the federal government.
“President Sullivan has placed the highest priority on fostering and promoting a culture and environment that is as safe as possible for our students and the entire University community,” said Patricia M. Lampkin, vice president and chief student affairs officer.