4 key takeaways from the White House report on campus sexual assaults

On Monday, the White House released recommendations to push colleges and universities to more effectively deal with sexual assaults on their campuses. Developed by a presidential task force, the guidelines come on the heels of federal complaints and investigations against some 39 higher ed institutions nationwide

Among those most widely publicized: Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale, ColumbiaStanford, the University of Connecticut, the University of California at Berkeley, Occidental Collegethe University of Southern California, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The problem has been so widespread, in fact, that women's rights group Ultraviolet has so far targeted prospective and current students at seven campuses with ads highlighting what the group says is a "rape problem" at those schools. The group has also called for changes including consent education for all students, campus resources that help victims press charges, and an easier process for those victims to switch classes and/or housing to avoid abusers.

The guidelines set forth by the Obama administration's recommendations lay the groundwork for covering those bases, but the report also stresses that they are merely the first step in fighting the problem. And, for what it's worth, some institutions — like Dartmouth, where President Philip J. Hanlon is fighting for changes to a campus culture of "extreme behavior" that has brought much unwanted attention for the Ivy League school — have already implemented harsher punishments themselves.

For those that haven't, the first thing to know is that the president's task force has established NotAlone.gov, a website that tracks Title IX and Clery Act enforcement, and also acts as an information resource for students, campus officials, and anyone else. Here, you can also find the task force's report in its entirety.

Here are the basics:

1. Campus Climate Surveys must be issued to identify the problem

The task force's first recommendation calls for all schools to show they take the problem seriously by conducting a trial Campus Climate Survey, which would be piloted, evaluated, and refined by the U.S. Justice Department and the Rutgers University Center on Violence Against Women and Children. The administration would provide schools with the toolkit to assemble and conduct this initial anonymous survey. After this, the administration could decide to require all schools to conduct the survey in 2016, potentially via legislation or an executive order. The idea of issuing mass surveys, however, is already seeing opposition from groups like NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and the American Council of Education, 

2. Prevention programs must engage men on campus

Engaging male students and encouraging them to confront the problem when they see someone in trouble is key, says the report. Along with giving schools information on how to establish bystander intervention programs on their campuses, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden — architect of 1990's Violence Against Women Act — have teamed up with celebrities in a new PSA dubbed "1 is 2 Many." The one-minute spot sees Obama, Biden, Daniel Craig, Benicio del Toro, Steve Carell, Seth Meyers, and Dule Hill encouraging young men to, if they see something happening, not to "blame her," but to "help her" and to "speak up."

3. All schools need an effective response plan

One thing the majority of sexual assault complaints against higher education institutions have in common is the alleged mishandling of cases. The new recommendations recognize that many victims need a clearly defined list not just of where they can report an assault, but of people on campus they can go to in confidence if they're not ready to make a formal or public complaint —​ and that they must feel they'll be taken seriously. These people must also be trained to appropriately handle the associated trauma.

Institutions' response plans must also include a comprehensive sexual assault policy — including disciplinary systems — drafted or reevaluated with all campus stakeholders (students included) at the table, and tailored to the institution's needs. This section of the report also calls for partnerships with local rape crisis centers and law enforcement.

4. The federal government has room for improvement here, too

The report closes by acknowledging moves the federal government is taking to become more transparent and responsive when it comes to enforcing Title IX and the Clery Act. For one, the Department of Education's Federal Student Aid Office, which handles Clery Act compliance, and Office for Civil Rights, which oversees Title IX along with the U.S. Justice Department, have clarified their roles and will work to more effectively share information. The Office for Civil Rights has also released a lengthy document on Title IX answering questions about what rights students have and what schools are obligated to do. NotAlone.gov is also part of this effort, as part of its goal is to provide a "plain English" take on complicated legal issues, as well as easy access to support and other services.


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Filed Under: Higher Ed Policy & Regulation