By Ruth Steinhardt
George Washington University has hired an assistant director for sexual assault prevention and response to serve under Title IX Coordinator Rory Muhammad in the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion.
Carrie Ross came to GW from the University of Michigan, where she was the senior counselor and program specialist at the Center for the Education of Women. At GW, she will lead and coordinate education around, and community response to, sexual violence. She began work March 16.
“Carrie, working closely with the Office of Victim Services, will play a critical role in supporting student advocacy, including confidential case management, and overseeing educational outreach, in addition to creating and maintaining campus and local community partnerships,” said Terri Harris Reed, vice provost for diversity and inclusion.
Ms. Ross will serve as a point of contact between the Title IX office and faculty, staff and students. Along with other members of the diversity and inclusion staff, she will partner with the Division of Student Affairs, coordinator of victim services and student organizations to design and implement prevention and awareness programs.
That task, she said, will require patience, care and an eye to the long term.
“I’m glad to be part of an institution that’s taking this issue really seriously and approaching it with thoughtfulness,” Ms. Ross said.
“With an issue like sexual violence, I think—very reasonably—the wish is to move very quickly toward a fix,” she said. “I feel the same way, as a human being. But in doing program planning around issues of violence, I’ve had to learn to be very patient because systems move slowly. We want to be careful about not just doing something at the expense of doing the right thing.
“At the same time, we have a responsibility while we’re working on gradual systems change to be as responsive and supportive in the moment as we can. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.”
With the help of the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, Ms. Ross is already beginning to design a curriculum that aims not only to raise campus awareness on how to respond to incidences of sexual violence, but also to root it out before it starts.
“Effective sexual violence education programming has to look not only at individual situations, but also at the concentric circles of culture and identity in which those situations arise,” she said. “How do we look at relationships on this campus? How do we talk about health and safety on this campus? What are the cultural norms around things like hookup culture or sex positivity? You have to wade carefully and thoroughly through all of those cultural factors.”
Issues of timing also will come into play.
“What we know from every piece of health education and prevention literature is that training over time is absolutely the best way to go. A one-and-done is simply not effective,” Ms. Ross said. “When a message is distributed over multiple occasions, in multiple venues, then people show that they recall the material and that it sinks in behaviorally.”
On Wednesday and Thursday, GW students will vote on a referendum that will measure student support for mandatory sexual assault prevention training during Colonial Inauguration.
Vice Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said that training on sexual assault prevention has and will continue to be incorporated into the traditional freshman orientation program and other events and activities throughout the year.
However, details of the university’s comprehensive and multifaceted training and education programs for sexual assault prevention are still being worked out.
“CI has in the past and will continue to raise awareness and educate students and parents on GW’s policies regarding Title IX and sexual violence,” Dr. Konwerski said.
“Our comprehensive sexual assault prevention training model will start at CI but ultimately go way beyond it.”
Sexual assault prevention resources, including bystander intervention training, trauma services and events and programs that raise awareness of methods to curb sexual violence, already are available throughout campus. Haven provides a central location for information on harassment and abuse, steps to take for witnesses or victims and how to report incidents confidentially. Members of the GW community also can request meetings and presentations tailored to specific departments or groups. The University Counseling Center features a trauma services coordinator to help support students who are survivors of sexual assault. The sexual assault response crisis team (SARC) responds 24/7 to help victims of sexual assault.
“I have 100 percent assurance that every voice involved wants this campus to be safe, wants this campus to be responsive when things don’t go well and wants us to do as much as we can to promote health and safety rather than only reacting when that’s not in place,” Ms. Ross said. “Even people who disagree disagree because they have a deep commitment to resolving this issue. That’s a good problem to have.”