How Tennessee Colleges Are Combatting Sexual Assaults on Campus

DJ Pic 13by Heather Stewart

“Perhaps most important, we need to keep saying to anyone out there who has ever been assaulted: you are not alone.We have your back. I’ve got your back.”

– President Barack Obama, January 22, 2014

On a cold January morning, over 400 college administrators from nearly 80 Tennessee institutions of higher education gathered in an auditorium on the campus of Tennessee State University to listen to the story of Katie Koestner. When TIME Magazine featured Katie on its cover in 1991, few people had heard the term “date rape.” Katie bravely told her story to the country then and continues retelling her story today to help people understand what it’s like to be a victim of rape. As Katie talked about the night she was raped, everyone in the room was breathless and on the edge of their seats.

Later that afternoon, just a few miles away from that auditorium, Corey Batey and Brandon Vandenburg were found guilty of raping an unconscious student in a dorm room at Vanderbilt University. At the moment the verdict was read, those administrators in that TSU auditorium were listening to two experts talk about the effects of alcohol on the body. College administrators know the statistics. One in five women will be sexually assaulted while they are in college. Greater than 80% of the victims will know their attacker. How to fix those statistics is less known.

A college’s response to sexual assault is governed by Title IX and the Clery Act. The same Title IX that ensures gender equity in athletics ensures a campus environment free from sexual harassment and violence. With the recent re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, the increased focus from the White House, and stories like the Rolling Stone article about the alleged rape at a UVA fraternity house, colleges are being challenged to evolve their response to reports of sexual assault and to work even harder to prevent assaults from occurring.

So what are they doing?

The two-day sexual and relationship violence summit held in January on TSU’s campus was a joint effort by the Tennessee Board of Regents, the University of Tennessee system, the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, and the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. This type of collaboration rarely happens between private and public schools, but rarely is an issue so universally relevant. The summit was attended by university presidents, chancellors, investigators, counselors, law enforcement officers, faculty, and student affairs personnel. The attendees learned how to conduct effective investigations, how to question a victim (and how not to), and what “consent” really means. They heard about how trauma impacts victims’ memories and actions. They walked away with best practices, awareness campaign ideas, and promises from each other to work together to end this crisis on our campuses.

In addition to the summit, many schools are appointing a single Title IX coordinator to oversee investigations and training, developing victim-centered policies, implementing awareness campaigns around the definition of consent, and teaching students bystander intervention methods. They are partnering with local rape crisis centers as resources for students who have been assaulted. They are ensuring that victims receive the academic accommodations they need, and they are punishing perpetrators. In short, they are taking a more holistic, victim-centered, and trauma-informed approach to the issue.

So what can you do?

Sexual and relationship violence is not an issue that starts and stops at the campus border, but a college campus is a place where a victim can find resources. The more people know about those resources, the more victims will be able to get help. Here are a few things you can do to help combat sexual assault on college campuses:

Believe her

If you are approached by a victim of sexual violence, the most important thing to do is believe her. Only 2-8% of reported sexual assaults are false reports. Do not ask questions like: What were you wearing? How much did you have to drink? These types of questions will only cause a victim to shut down and not reach out to professionals for psychological, physical, legal, or academic help.

Know where to go

Every school that receives federal financial aid is required to designate one person as its Title IX Coordinator. You should be able to locate the coordinator on the school’s website. This person can direct the victim to all of the available school and community resources. Below are some links for more information:

www.notalone.gov–This website was created by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. You can find statistics, crisis hotlines, support organizations, and information on how to file a complaint.

www.sacenter.org–The Sexual Assault Center is a domestic violence and rape crisis center serving Davidson County and Middle Tennessee. SAC offers educational programming and counseling for victims of sexual and relationship violence.

www.knowyourix.org–Know Your IX is an organization that helps students know and enforce their rights under Title IX. The website can help victims find a lawyer, change schools, file a report, and learn how to be an advocate.

Don’t just be a bystander—intervene.

The best way to deal with sexual assault is to stop it before it happens. If you see a person who is incapacitated and at risk of assault, step in and help. If you are a man, it is even more important that you act. For more information on bystander intervention, visit http://www.mencanstoprape.org/Theories-that-Shape-Our-Work/bystander-intervention.html.

 

Heather Stewart is an Associate General Counsel for the Tennessee Board of Regents, the state college and university system consisting of 6 universities, 13 community colleges, and 27 colleges of applied technology. As Associate General Counsel, Heather provides advice to member institutions and the Board on a wide range of topics, including Title IX, the Campus SaVE Act, First Amendment, Due Process, FERPA, Title IV, employment laws, Clery Act, and Title VI.