The White House announced its latest campaign aimed at ending sexual assault on campuses nationwide last Friday with the “It’s On Us” initiative—the day after Georgetown officials sent students two emails detailing its own protocol and resources for dealing with sexual assault.
The “It’s On Us” campaign asks community members to pledge to do their part in ending sexual assault—in particular, encouraging college students to take action when friends or classmates appear to be at risk. The 12-step plan includes measures such as talking to your friends openly about sexual assault and keeping an eye on someone who has had too much to drink. At the end of the list, the White House asks students to “never blame the victim.”
According to the White House’s announcement, Georgetown is one of 200 institutions with student leadership involvement in the initiative.
Since the beginning of the year, the Obama administration has created a task force and reviewed existing laws, including Title IX, in an effort to demonstrate intolerance for sexual assault on college campuses. Furthermore, over 50 schools are currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for alleged mishandling of sexual assault. Georgetown is not one of these institutions.
According to GUSA President Trevor Tezel (SFS ‘15), Georgetown worked with the National Campus Leadership Council and other student governments to help prepare for a successful roll-out of the “It’s On Us” campaign on university campuses.
“While the campaign announcement came with the release of grants for certain schools to improve their resources, Georgetown was not one of these schools [under investigation],” Tezel said. “The policy impact will actually be smaller compared to the announcements made earlier in the calendar year regarding Title IX.”
In an email sent to the student body, University President John DeGioia highlighted Georgetown’s progress and leadership in its handling of sexual assault over the years.
“Georgetown has engaged deeply in these issues for many years—from being one of the nation’s first institutions to hire a full-time sexual assault coordinator in 1997 to the establishment of our Sexual Assault Working Group more than a decade ago,” DeGioia wrote.
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson followed up with another email sent minutes after, explaining Georgetown initiatives designed to address the issue of sexual assault. He included programs such as “Think About It,” the recent online tutorial requirement for all incoming students developed by Jesuit universities to comprehensively address sexual assault issues, and “Are You Ready?,” an annual program that addresses issues facing friends of sexual assault survivors, which is now in its 12th year at Georgetown.
Olson also mentioned the Office of Student Conduct’s new use of closed-circuit technology, allowing plaintiffs and respondents to be located in different rooms during proceedings. Additionally, the University is contracting independent experts to investigate cases of sexual assault in order to assure a thorough, unbiased inspection.
Rosemary Kilkenny, Georgetown’s Title IX Coordinator, elaborated on the University’s involvement in the campaign: “Georgetown’s leadership on this issue will also be reflected in the University’s development of [Public Service Announcements] to be shown at major university and athletics events throughout this academic year,” she said. “We will inspire major entities of our community including students, faculty and staff to step up, get involved, intervene and take the pledge.”
Sarah Rabon (COL ‘16), president of Georgetown’s chapter of Take Back the Night, an international non-profit organization working to end sexual violence, praised the “It’s On Us” pledge. “It’s a good reminder that sexual assault is a community issue,” said Rabon. “Though incidents of sexual assault are always the fault of the perpetrator, the community as a whole has a lot of power to address sexual assault through awareness, bystander intervention, respect and care for survivors, and intolerance for perpetrators’ acts of assault.”
Some expressed less enthusiasm that “It’s On Us” will bring any tangible change to the current system.
“I think that the White House communicating that sexual assault is important to them will give students leverage for further changes, but I think that the campaign itself will change very little,” said GUSA Secretary of Student Health and Safety Nora West (SFS ‘15). “It is not a measure—it is a public awareness campaign centered around a pledge taken by community leaders. This campaign will do a great deal to raise awareness on campus, which is very important, but it will not be changing any specific policies.”
For Rabon, however, the pledge is just one step in a longer process. “The act of signing the pledge may cause someone to feel as if they’ve effectively done their part, but in reality, the epidemic of sexual assault is one that will only be resolved after a long period of hard work by many,” she said.