The White House released a report Tuesday outlining a series of recommendations to protect college students from sexual assault.
Issued by a special task force convened by President Barack Obama and co-led by Vice President Joe Biden, the report urges colleges and universities to improve mechanisms for identifying, preventing and responding to sexual assault. According to the report, one in five women is sexually assaulted during college.
It’s an issue that the George Washington University takes very seriously, said Terri Harris Reed, vice provost for diversity and inclusion and the university’s Title IX coordinator.
“We are pleased to see the White House focusing the nation’s attention on this critical subject,” she said. “At GW, we have already implemented measures highlighted in the White House report, especially those that are consistent with the guidance issued from the Department of Education to colleges and universities.”
One of the White House task force’s key recommendations is administering an anonymous survey to assess the prevalence of sexual assault and students’ attitudes and awareness on the issue. “The first step in solving a problem is to name it and know the extent of it—and a campus climate survey is the best way to do that,” according to the report.
Earlier this month, GW issued a survey on sexual harassment and assault to 3,000 randomly selected students. The results are currently being assessed and will inform future prevention and awareness efforts, Dr. Reed said.
The university also offers bystander intervention training as called for in the White House report. The training is offered during events for students, including Freshman Day of Service, and in conjunction with student organizations. Sexual assault awareness education is incorporated in Colonial Inauguration and Welcome Week.
To centralize resources on sexual harassment and abuse awareness and prevention, the university launched the website Haven last fall. Visitors to the website can find information about harassment and abuse, what to do if they are witnesses or victims and how to report incidents confidentially. Members of the GW community can also request meetings and presentations tailored to their specific department or group.
Last fall, after input from the university community, GW issued a final version of its Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence Policy and Procedures. In 2011, the Department of Education urged universities to reevaluate their sexual harassment and sexual violence policies, prompting GW to amend its existing policy and seek comment from students, faculty and staff. Based on those comments, the university decided not to include a time limit for reporting complaints.
In addition to university-based resources, student groups—including Students Against Sexual Assault and Men of Strength—raise awareness and create a forum for student activism. Student organizations sponsor the university’s annual Take Back the Night event, for example.
Student Association Executive Vice President Kostas Skordalos has been an advocate for sexual assault awareness and serves as co-president of Men of Strength. He attended Tuesday’s ceremony at the White House announcing the report.
“Having worked with a number of great student activists on the topic of campus sexual assault since coming to GW, it is incredibly rewarding and encouraging to see the leadership and commitment that is coming from the White House on the topic,” he said. “The energy that came from our nation’s leaders at the official announcement is honestly the kind of support that those of us who work on this issue have dreamed about."
The university will use the White House report as a guide for ongoing and future efforts. “This is something we really care about,” Dr. Reed said. “We are committed to working as a community to protect students from sexual assault.”