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Sexual assault on college campuses has been making headlines in recent months due to the re-engagement of the White House and Federal Government to create safer campus communities. For years, Gallaudet has been designing and implementing creative and collaborative ways to approach this very serious issue on its Washington, D.C. campus. Aided by a three-year, $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, the university’s programs and services include a successful bystander intervention program, three campus sexual assault resource teams, sexual assault/domestic violence programming including guest speakers, panel discussions, and workshops, and alcohol-free weekend night events sponsored by Gallaudet.
Gallaudet’s initiatives earned the recognition of the United States Attorney General Eric Holder during a May 14 University Leadership Roundtable with other D.C. area university leaders. Dean of Student Affairs Dwight Benedict represented Gallaudet and explained that incidents of sexual assault tend to be reported on campus rather than to outside agencies, such as local law enforcement, because of the direct language and communication access at Gallaudet.
“As a result of our recent public awareness efforts, we have seen an increase in the numbers of alleged victims reporting incidents of sexual assault to on-campus agencies,” said Benedict. “We feel this is because students, faculty, and staff are more educated about sexual assault and the options available to them should one occur, and feel a greater level of trust and comfort working with the university’s support services.”
Gallaudet was one of 11 universities selected for a site visit by Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole; Principal Deputy Director, Office on Violence Against Women, Bea Hanson; and Senior Counselor to the Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, Becky Monroe on April 24. Justice Department officials met with university administrators about how best practices and lessons learned are playing out in areas such as prevention, public awareness and peer support.
“To be recognized for making strides is great because it is a very difficult issue to confront,” said Christine Gannon, director of Health and Wellness Programs at Gallaudet, who attended the meeting with Cole.
A proactive approach
On Kendall Green, reducing the incidents of sexual assault and serving victims more effectively is a collaborative endeavor that involves Student Affairs and Academic Support, Health and Wellness Programs, Residence Life and Housing, the Department of Public Safety, Office of Student Conduct, Mental Health Center, Title IX Coordinator/Deputy Coordinators, Athletics, Faculty Representatives, Campus Activities, and several other campus outreach programs.
Gannon leads the Sexual Assault Resource Team (SART) which was established in August 2012 to discuss policies, protocol, and issues on campus. Since that time, two additional SART-related organizations have formed: Student SART, which meets regularly during the academic year to plan events and share news and other relevant information and Community SART, which is made up of faculty, staff, and several students.
One of the most critical initiatives SART has implemented to reduce incidences of sexual assault is Green Dot, a bystander intervention program funded by the grant. The goal of Green Dot is to increase individual willingness and ability to recognize and intervene to prevent acts of sexual misconduct on campuses. Currently, there are about 100 students and 40 faculty and staff trained for bystander intervention. Gannon said the trained students are becoming Green Dot ambassadors by encouraging their friends to get involved.
“We hope to continue to have at least two or three trainings per semester with the goal of getting 500 people trained by the end of the 2015-2016 academic school year,” added Gannon.
A study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimated that 25 percent of American women have experienced sexual assault and about one-half of those cases involved alcohol, either consumed by the perpetrator, victim, or both. Given the strong correlation between alcohol and sexual misconduct, Gallaudet has invested in mandatory sexual assault and alcohol and drug awareness programming for incoming freshmen and transfer students, called Haven and Alcohol Edu, respectively. Developed by EverFi, a leading education technology company focused on teaching, assessing, badging, and certifying students in critical skills, both programs advise students on ways to stay safe and how to be socially responsible with a focus on positive behavior reinforcement. Gannon explained that educating students before they arrive to campus is crucial because of what is known as the “Red Zone,” the first six weeks of college life when alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct are more likely to occur. When students do arrive to campus, the New Student Orientation (NSO) includes a session entitled, “Healthy Choices on Campus” that focuses on responsible decision-making as well as a session on sexual misconduct that includes an introduction to Title IX and effective consent.
“The programs are based on current research about what is effective and what is not. If we focus on how we want people to behave and what we want to see them develop and grow, then that will be more effective than telling them what not to do,” explained Gannon.
At the request of students, Gallaudet also began offering university-sponsored alcohol-free weekend evening activities. The university’s Student Center Programs and Services (SCPS) hosted several “Late Night Gallaudet” (LNGU) social events throughout the 2013-2014 academic year including a sumo wrestling tournament, drive-in movies on the Gallaudet mall, Oktoberfest with root beer, and a paintball competition between staff and students. In addition, LNGU funding as well as support from intramurals ensures that the Field House and athletic facilities are open and available for students during the weekends.
At the May Board of Trustees meeting, Benedict commended the continued efforts of SCPS as well as the students who coordinated this year’s Rockfest, a weekend sports festival with RIT, for hosting a dry event.
“An alcohol-free Rockfest is a good first step by student organizations to provide alternative was to socialize that don’t involve alcohol,” said Benedict.
In its education efforts, Gallaudet focuses also on sharing personal stories of sexual assault survivors to promote awareness and healing. Last October, during Domestic Violence Awareness month, Marilyn Smith, ’74 & G-’77, founder of Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Services (ADWAS) presented “The Anti-Violence and Sexual Violence Movement in Deaf America 1986-2013” as part of the Sesquicentennial Lecture Series. Also that month, Patricia Lupson, who lost her daughter and two grandsons to domestic violence, shared her experiences with the Gallaudet community.
During April’s Sexual Assault Awareness month, Gallaudet’s Health and Wellness Programs worked with Deaf Abused Women’s Network (DAWN), an organization that provides free support and advocacy services for students who have experienced or know someone who has experienced sexual misconduct, and students in GSR 300-03, a sexual misconduct course taught by Kathryn “Kitty” Baldridge, to host a variety of workshops and events to highlight the seriousness of sexual misconduct and assault. Events also included “A Male Survivor Shares: Sexual Assault Happens to Men, Too,” “Real Men Talk About Sexual Assault: Men-to-Men,” and the second annual “Clothesline Project” which allows victims of domestic and sexual violence to express their feelings and experiences through art.
Gannon noted that student paraprofessionals working with Health and Wellness Programs, known as Peer Health Advocates, have met with nearly all the student groups on campus throughout the past academic year to encourage bystander intervention and party planning to reduce high risk situations at their events. Next fall, Gannon hopes to expand forums and dialogues with student groups to reinforce the Green Dot training and to continue conversations about developing internal norms around codes of conduct.
A focus on compassion, healing, and justice
If a sexual assault occurs on or off campus, the university’s first priority is to ensure the safety of the victim and the campus community and to make sure the victim receives the appropriate medical care and counseling. Students have many options to report an assault on campus, including the Department of Public Safety, Residence Life, Campus Ministries, the Mental Health Center, the on-campus offices of DAWN, a faculty or staff member, or the university’s Title IX office Coordinator/Deputy Coordinators.
“The university’s coordinated and integrated team approach is crucial for success,” said Sharrell McCaskill, Gallaudet’s Title IX coordinator. “It works very well for us.”
The Mental Health Center has counselors on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week and provides students with support through individual or group counseling sessions. Residence Life is also on call 24/7 and can provide emergency housing to students who are the victim of sexual misconduct. DAWN has an active presence on campus, offering victim support services every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment in ELY 103. All the information about sexual misconduct complaints are kept confidential, with only essential personnel involved to provide the necessary support for the victim and as needed to assist with an investigation should the victim wish to pursue charges.
If the victim does not want an investigation, a determination is made about whether or not the alleged perpetrator is a threat to the campus community. If an investigation is conducted, the alleged perpetrator is notified and interim measures or remedies are then put into place such as:
Interim remedies can become effective immediately and last as long as necessary to complete the investigation.
Gannon said it is imperative that the entire campus community understand how the university is actively addressing all incidents of sexual misconduct. However, she said, the help of each person on campus is needed to foster a community of support and accountability. She encourages each person on campus to participate in Green Dot training and other events, incorporate Gallaudet’s efforts into curriculum and conversations, share the work that is being done to prevent assaults, create open dialogue, and to ask questions.
“If an instructor cannot make it to class because they are sick or have a personal emergency, we encourage them not to cancel the class. Instead, we send a SART representative to share with students what we are doing to address sexual misconduct and how they make the campus safer,” said Gannon.
Above all else, the objective is for each person on campus to play a role in the creation of a safe and supportive learning and living environment.
“The Green Dot program uses a phrase that I believe speaks volumes about our goals on campus: No one has to do everything. Everyone has to do something,” said Gannon.
This project was supported by Grant No. 2012-WA-AX-0018 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.
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