The White House is pushing colleges to survey their students about sex assault and other “campus climate” issues, part of a rape-prevention campaign that will include a Web site to support survivors and track enforcement, a public service announcement from President Obama, and recommendations for how to handle reported assaults.
The key message Tuesday from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was that colleges must take action to curb violence that has long plagued women at schools across the country.
“Colleges and universities can no longer turn a blind eye or pretend rape and sexual assault doesn’t occur on their campuses,” Vice President Biden said as a 20-page report was released Tuesday. “We need to provide survivors with more support and we need to bring perpetrators to more justice and we need colleges and universities to step up.”
While sexual violence is an age-old problem, the campaign responds to growing outrage at incidents reported in recent years at some of the nation’s most prestigious schools, such as Amherst College in Massachusetts and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. The president of Dartmouth College this month pledged a campaign to end “extreme behavior,” including sex assaults and dangerous drinking, at the college campus in New Hampshire.
Brown University’s president said Saturday that the school would take “aggressive steps to ensure that our campus is safe for everyone,” responding in part to a sex assault case reported at the Rhode Island campus.
On Monday, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights issued a finding that Tufts University in Massachusetts had violated federal anti-discrimination law in its handling of sexual assault and harassment complaints. Tufts said it was “surprised and disappointed” that the federal office found it to be out of compliance with the law known as Title IX. “Tufts University is deeply committed to the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff,” the school said.
Susy Struble, a Dartmouth graduate active in the anti-sexual-violence group Dartmouth Change, applauded the White House task force report.
“There’s really no more excuse anymore for any colleges and universities to say they don’t have a road map for how to move forward,” Struble said.
Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education, which represents colleges and universities, said she was pleased the report recognized sex assault as a complex problem. “We need to look carefully to how they’ve addressed some of the issues to be sure they will work for the wide variety of higher education institutions,” she said.
The task force, formed in January, includes Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other government officials.
Among the report’s recommendations:
●Colleges should learn about what’s happening on campus through systematic surveys.
“When done right, these surveys can gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, test students’ attitudes and awareness about the issue, and provide schools with an invaluable tool for crafting solutions,” the report said. The task force said the administration would consider requiring colleges to conduct such surveys in 2016.
●Colleges should promote “bystander intervention,” in others words, getting witnesses to step in when misconduct arises. “It’s up to all of us to put an end to sexual assault,” Obama said in a public service announcement. “And that starts with you.” The PSA also features Biden and actors Steve Carrell, Daniel Craig, Seth Meyers, Benicio Del Toro and Dulé Hill.
●Colleges should identify trained victim advocates who can provide emergency and ongoing support. The administration also released a sample reporting and confidentiality protocol, as well as a “checklist” for an effective sexual misconduct policy.
The report said the government would make enforcement data and other information about sex assault available through a Web site called NotAlone.gov. It said the site would collect in one easy-to-read place information that students have often struggled to find. The site will aim to “give students a clear explanation of their rights,” the report said, as well as “a simple description of how to file a complaint” with federal authorities. “It will help students wade through often complicated legal definitions and concepts, and point them toward people who can give them confidential advice — and those who can’t,” the report said.