Penn State ‘Call To Action’ Sets Initiatives For Preventing Sexual Assault
The first Penn State Call to Action took place in the HUB yesterday afternoon, providing both students and faculty with information on Penn State’s efforts to combat sexual assault on campus and around State College. The yearly meetings are a product of the Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment that President Eric Barron assembled shortly after taking office.
The goal of the annual meeting is to reflect on the previous year’s accomplishments and to vocalize the university’s efforts for the time ahead; likewise, the hope is that the recurring meetings will consistently remind the community that the battle against sexual assault must be continually fought by both students and faculty. The event was live-streamed and viewers (as well as those present in the audience) were able to submit questions to a panel of faculty to be answered.
UPUA President Emily McDonald gave a brief introduction wherein she emphasized that the responsibility to stop sexual assault is on everybody, students included. Her opening foreshadowed the overarching theme of the meeting that “one too many students are plagued by sexual assault,” a tragedy that can be with proper education and the help of bystanders.
Following McDonald’s remarks, President Barron gave a brief introduction, discussing the many challenges that come alongside dealing with sexual assault as a university. He noted that more than 100 universities are currently being investigated for violating Title IX, which protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. The scope of the law has broadened since it was originally enacted to include sexual assault on campus.
In order to optimize the way sexual assault is reported on campus, Barron announced that for the past six months he has been in search of a Title IX coordinator and hopes to put together a free-standing Title IX office. Barron referenced the first Call to Action as a celebration of the university’s commitment to becoming a national leader in sexual assault prevention. However, it is also an opportunity to realize that more needs to be done.
“This should be a defining moment that says we have had enough”, Barron said. “I’ve seen the power of this university when it sets its mind to something.”
Following President Barron, UPUA Vice President, Terry Ford, gave a brief statement on their goals for the coming year — chiefly the implementation of the 18 recommendations of President Barron’s Task Force. This includes introducing the bystander initiative program as well as the Green Dot Initiative, which has the ultimate goal of preparing organizations and communities to “implement a strategy of violence prevention that consistently, measurably reduces power-based personal violence.” Finally, Ford announced the goal to develop educational programs that would assist students in building and maintaining “healthy adult relationships while avoiding sexual misconduct.”
Damon Sims, Vice President of Student Affairs and Task Force chair, then introduced each panel member. In his introduction, Sims stated his pride for working at a university where those at the very top of the chain are committed to dealing with this issue. Each panel member briefly introduced themselves and gave background on their involvement with the project.
The panel members included: Dean and Chancellor of Penn State Altoona, Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry; Vice Provost for Affirmative Action in University Park, Kenneth F. Lehrman, III; CCSG President, Shawn Lichvar; Associate Professor of Philosophy and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State, Sarah Clark Miller; and Interim Coordinator for Bystander Intervention at Penn State, Katie Tenny. All members emphasized the fact that there is still much more to improve upon when it comes to preventing and reporting sexual assault.
Audience members and people watching via live-stream were able to ask the panel questions, to which members of the panel responded. By the end of the meeting, there was only time for a few questions, and many of them had a much broader scope than could be answered in five minutes, such as, “How to you think we managed to get to this point as a society?” and, “How does alcohol abuse relate to sexual assault and what is being done about it?”
Though it raised some difficult questions, the Call to Action was hopeful, as it gave some concrete steps and initiatives that the administration plans to take in order to tackle sexual assault. The meeting ended with members of both the audience and the panel, including Sims, ambitiously embracing the future of the initiative.
“We will slip and fall sometimes, but we are determined to get it right for our students and for all the communities that we serve.”