U.Va. Forges Ahead with Efforts Against Sexual Violence, Alcohol Abuse

August 28, 2015

Between now and mid-September, University of Virginia students will be required to complete educational programs designed to help prevent sexual violence and alcohol abuse.

The online training modules are required of all students, including those who are part-time or enrolled in graduate and professional schools.

“These educational programs are the latest in a continuing series of initiatives that we are implementing to make our Grounds as safe as possible,” U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan said. “We want every member of U.Va.’s community of trust to feel safe and secure. To build a true community of trust, we must create a University-wide culture of respect. The human values of respect and trust are mutually dependent.”

The new sexual violence prevention training module for students includes key definitions, statistics and suggested strategies for bystander intervention. The second training, called “Alcohol-Wise,” provides students with personalized feedback and helps them clarify their choices around drinking habits and attitudes. The program also is helpful for students who do not drink but may encounter the negative consequences of a friend’s alcohol use.

Each takes about 75 minutes, and the modules can be completed in multiple sessions.

The sexual violence training also informs students of the University’s updated Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence.

The policy is just one of many recent initiatives on Grounds, ranging from new procedures and personnel to student-run campaigns, to make the University a safer place. 

Updated Policy

First implemented on an interim basis in March, the new Policy on Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence officially went into effect July 1 and was the result of a considerable effort across Grounds to solicit community feedback.

More than 600 individual comments came in during its review period, including feedback from the President’s Ad Hoc Group on University Climate and Culture established in the wake of the now-retracted and debunked Rolling Stone magazine story detailing an alleged assault at the University.  

The policy applies to the entire University community – students, faculty and staff – and covers the steps the University and its community members should take with regard to all forms of sexual and gender-based harassment and violence, including how to respond to reports from students and others.

It was designed to comply with recent changes to state laws, federal Title IX requirements, the Clery Act and the Violence Against Women Act – though its purpose extends beyond those requirements.  

“More than mere compliance, however, this policy embodies our institutional commitment to provide a safe and non-discriminatory environment for all members of our community,” Sullivan said when it was enacted.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reviewed the policy prior to its implementation and received it favorably.

New Personnel

The University has hired Catherine Spear as the new assistant vice president for equal opportunity programs. Spear served as the Title IX Coordinator at Stanford University since 2014. Prior to joining Stanford, she held various positions in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in Cleveland, including serving as director of that office from 2010 to 2014. Spear will ensure that the University gives full consideration to the principles and obligations of equal opportunity and affirmative action, and will be responsible for monitoring and coordinating compliance with nondiscrimination laws and for overseeing the investigations of all complaints alleging discrimination.

This summer, the University also hired Kelley Hodge, U.Va.’s first full-time Title IX coordinator, a position designed to oversee all Title IX efforts, from resources and support, to education and training, to investigation and adjudication. Hodge, a U.Va. alumna, is an experienced trial attorney with more than 14 years of courtroom experience handling a variety of criminal cases. She specializes in advocacy for juvenile and adult victims of crime. For the past four years, she has served as the Safe Schools Advocate for the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency in Philadelphia, after being appointed by former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.

Other recent hires include Gabe Gates as assistant vice president for Clery Compliance.  Gates most recently served as compliance manager at Pennsylvania State University, where he successfully led Clery compliance efforts. The Clery Act, a federal law signed in 1990, requires colleges and universities that receive federal funding to share certain information about crime and take specific measures to combat it.

U.Va. also added two full-time Title IX investigators, as well as new trauma counselors in both the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women's Center and the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services.

In addition, the Office of the Dean of Students added a program coordinator for prevention in 2014, tasked with identifying and implementing proven strategies to reduce sexual assault, gender-based violence and other forms of violence and hazing.

A Push for Increased Reporting of Incidents

In August 2014, the University implemented a new reporting policy, detailing students’ options around reporting sexual violence, the University process and the obligations of responsible employees to respond to disclosures.

To make it easier for community members to report an incident, the University modified the Just Report It online system to allow direct and anonymous reporting and widely distributed an infographic for students as a reporting reference sheet. Just Report It allows members of the community to promptly report incidents of bias, including hazing, and racial, sexual or gender-based violence.

Consistent with guidance from the federal government as well as recent Virginia legislation, which became effective July 1, U.Va. also implemented an evaluation panel to regularly review all reports for appropriate action to address issues of victim and community safety.

Efforts Across Grounds

In addition to programmatic changes, the University and its students have launched several new initiatives to raise awareness in the community.

In April, the University participated in a sexual assault campus climate survey sponsored by the Association of American Universities. The survey aims to help institutions and policymakers better understand issues related to sexual assault as they expand efforts to prevent it and respond appropriately, and to assess students’ knowledge and perceptions of safety and support. The AAU is expected to publish its aggregate report on the survey in September.

In the summer of 2014, University staff and students collaborated to create Not on Our Grounds, a broad set of initiatives dedicated to ending sexual violence in the University community through a series of training programs, awareness campaigns, prevention efforts and reporting guidelines.

As part of that initiative, the University launched the “Hoos Got Your Back” bystander awareness campaign at the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year, and has continued the effort for this year. The campaign is aimed specifically at combatting the so-called “red zone” – the first few weeks of a new academic year when students are most at risk for sexual assault. It involves students, faculty, staff, Corner merchants and other members of the University community, and urges them to become more aware of potentially dangerous situations – if someone seems to be attempting to take advantage of a person who has consumed too much alcohol, for example – then shows them how to intervene effectively.

In March, after months of planning and preparation, the University hosted an event to roll out a comprehensive violence prevention strategy through Green Dot, a national organization dedicated to reducing power-based personal violence through community mobilization. The program strives to counter acts of violence (“red dots”) with “green dots,” which represent acts or behaviors that prevent violence. “Reactive” green dots represent acts to intervene and potentially prevent violence, focusing on the “three Ds” – direct, distract or delegate – strategies that bystanders can use to overcome barriers to action by employing a technique that fits their own comfort level. “Proactive” green dots are statements – on social media, for instance – that declare that violence is not tolerated and everyone has a responsibility to do their part to end violence in the community. As program creator Dorothy Edwards said, “no one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something.”

Student organizations have also joined the effort to enhance safety and prevent sexual violence. In January, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and the University’s four student-led Greek leadership councils (the Inter-Fraternity Council, the Inter-Sorority Council, the Multicultural Greek Council and the National Pan-Hellenic Council) introduced addenda to the University’s Fraternal Organization agreement outlining measures to enhance the safety of their members and guests.

The Greek leadership councils have also embraced educational programming requirements, agreeing to complete at least six educational programs each year, three of which will be focused on sexual violence prevention, alcohol and drug education, and hazing prevention. 

Additionally, student peer education groups One in Four and One Less are collaborating to establish a new program, “Dorm Norms,” aimed at educating first-year students in their residence halls about what they can do to prevent sexual violence.

And a student committee will soon be convened to focus on issues concerning climate and culture.

“Cultural change always takes patience and time,” Sullivan said. “These new efforts involve the entire community in an even larger way, and they build on our ongoing commitment to prevent both sexual violence and alcohol abuse.”

Related UVA Today coverage regarding programmatic safety enhancements:

New University Working Group to Focus on Safety (Oct. 3, 2014)

City, County and U.Va. Leaders Collaborate on Community Safety (Oct. 3, 2014)

U.Va. President Outlines Components of Action Plan for Safety (Dec. 8, 2014)

U.Va. Adopts New Fraternal Organization Agreement Aimed to Enhance Safety (Jan. 6, 2015)

University Unveils Additional Safety Initiatives (Jan. 15, 2015)

U.Va. to Participate in National Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey (Jan. 22, 2015)

Ambassadors Program Poised to Provide a Friendly, Helpful Level of Security (Jan. 28, 2015)

Panel Receives Recommendations to Improve University Culture and Climate (June 21, 2015)

U.Va. Updates Policy on Sexual Assault, Harassment, Other Interpersonal Violence (July 1, 2015)

Media Contact

Anthony P. de Bruyn

University Spokesperson Office of University Communications