WASHINGTON—Several Catholic universities are following Vice President Joe Biden’s lead and taking a closer look at sexual assault and misconduct on their campuses.
Just two days after Biden’s address on violence against women at the United State of Women Summit in Washington, D.C., Georgetown University released the results of its first comprehensive sexual assault and misconduct climate survey.
The survey, launched in January, followed the same format as the Association of American Universities’ 2015 study of these issues at 27 U.S. colleges and universities. More than 7,000 students took Georgetown’s version, one of the highest response rates in the nation.
The Georgetown survey found that 31 percent of female undergrads had experienced non-consensual sexual contact, which University President John J. DeGioia called unacceptable in a statement accompanying the survey results.
Many students also said they felt uncomfortable intervening, with 77 percent of bystanders who saw a drunk person about to have a sexual encounter doing nothing to stop them. A quarter of respondents said they didn’t know what to do.
These data, the president said, were consistent with national trends.
Biden appealed to such bystanders in his June 14 address, calling them accomplices in rape.
He also took universities to task, saying, “There is no excuse when a higher institution of learning fails to protect a precious child who we have entrusted (to) them because they’re worried about their reputation.”
Half of Georgetown respondents said they had been sexually harassed since enrolling, including three quarters of women and 85 percent of “gender nonconforming students,” those students who do not follow stereotypes about how they should look or act based on their gender at birth.
Georgetown is listening to these complaints.
The Jesuit-run university will form focus groups and a task force this fall to determine the causes behind the self-reported statistics and to find solutions.
The school plans to launch a resource awareness campaign so that students know how to report assaults and misconduct, because only 1 in 5 considered themselves highly knowledgeable in this area.
Beginning this fall, Georgetown will also require all student leaders — and later, all students — to take a bystander intervention module.
The university currently requires undergrads and graduate students to complete Think About It, an interactive online training about alcohol, healthy relationships, and sexual assault and misconduct, but the Think About It booster — a follow-up program — will now be mandatory as well.
The University of San Francisco, Georgetown’s across-the-country brother school, developed the Think About It program in 2011.
The California Jesuit university requires students to finish the training before they arrive on campus, but administrators know prevention takes more than thought.
That’s why, at orientation, students go through additional assault education programs where they are encouraged to “talk about it,” said Julie Orio, interim vice provost for student life. The training includes watching a play on sexual assault and misconduct, then splitting into small groups for discussion.
The school also holds programs in the dorms and health center to continue raising students’ awareness.
Orio said the university’s bystander training gives students the tools to intervene or “do something about it” when they see a possible sexual assault about to happen.
This three-pronged approach aims to change the culture around assaults at the university, though they’ve been unable to measure its effectiveness because the school just put in place a new reporting system, Orio said.
Georgetown, too, wants to change its campus culture and will measure its success by conducting the same survey it did this spring every other year, beginning in 2018.
For Biden, the measure of success lies not in statistics but in a transformed mentality.
“We will have succeeded,” Biden said, “when not a single woman who is violated ever, ever asks herself the question, ‘What did I do? What did I do?’ And we will have succeeded when not one man who raises a hand or takes a violent action against a woman is able to say with any credibility in his own mind, ‘Well, she deserved it.’”
Colleen Dulle | Catholic News Service
Featured image: Wikimedia: Georgetown University.