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Sexual Misconduct on Campus is Under the Microscope

This post was submitted by Alexandra Lamont and Onward State staff writer Melissa McCleery. Both are members of the Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harrasment and both are representatives in the UPUA. You can have your content published on Onward State by submitting it here. 

Last week, the university announced the release of the Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Task Force report, available here. This effort by the university is a necessary one, and long overdue, considering the scope of the problem of sexual assault on college campuses. This issue matters at Penn State, because chances are that at least one person in your class has experienced sexual violence. How many of us have had a friend tell us they’ve been assaulted? How many of us have been harassed or assaulted ourselves? How many of us are confident that we know what harassment and assault looks like, or when to report it?

What Penn State currently has in place to address and deal with sexual assault are mostly response tools, which the university does well. We have a coordinated sexual assault response team joining police, counseling, and medical professionals. We created the “purple team” at CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) that’s dedicated to counseling students who have dealt with sexual violence. And unlike some institutions, we have a sensitive and respectful team running the student conduct process for sexual assault and harassment cases.

What the Task Force found, however, was that this is not enough. The university currently has hundreds of programs addressing sexual assault, but few of them interact or even have an awareness that the other programs exist. Improving communication and coordination among these groups makes the programs more streamlined, effective and relatable. As such, the report heavily addresses improving the coordination of all efforts to tackle sexual assault across the university. By providing tools for intervention and education to inform what sexual assault really looks like, the hope is to prevent assaults before they happen.

As students on the Task Force, we tried to focus on concerns that any average student might bring to the issue. The university administration is full of qualified people, but oftentimes, qualified people who haven’t been a college student in 30-plus years. As students, it was important for us to explain what being a college student today is like: the alcohol, the hook-ups, the stigmas. As students we felt like these viewpoints were respected and taken into consideration in the report.

We have faith in many of our recommendations – the creation of the Title IX coordinator position and office will ensure issues of sexual assault and harassment receive the attention they deserve; an investigative student conduct model will make the process less traumatizing for survivors; bystander education will help students learn how to stop sexual violence or assault before it happens; and we hope revamped educational programming will connect better with students.

The problem with sexual assault, though, is that it does not occur in a vacuum. What we need is a culture at our university that compels us to care for each other, to protect each other, to advocate for one another. As we move forward, we must all remember that as members of our community, we share a responsibility for ending sexual violence. As students, we have to watch out for each other, get a friend home safely, tell an over-aggressive friend it’s time to stop, and support a friend who tells us their story. The administration also must continue to keep this issue front-and-center so that efforts by the university to end sexual assault don’t stop until the assaults do.

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