The Sexual Assault and Misconduct Task Force presented its recommendations for changes in university sexual misconduct policy in a forum on Tuesday, Sept. 12. Its 2017 report called on the university to increase bystander training, staffing, and education related to sexual misconduct.
Todd Olson, vice president for Student Affairs, Rosemary Kilkenny, vice president for Institutional Diversity, and recent graduate Olivia Hinerfeld (SFS ’17) co-chaired the task force. The university established the team after the release of the results of the the 2016 Georgetown Sexual Assault and Misconduct Climate Survey in June 2016. The task force consisted of several sub-committees and over seventy members, involving students and faculty across schools and programs.
At the forum, Kilkenny said the 2016 survey was an important motivator for the task force. “The results of the climate survey clearly showed that Georgetown University has a very high incidence of sexual assault and sexual misconduct [relative to other universities],” she said. According to the survey, 31 percent of all female undergraduates experienced non-consensual sexual contact while at Georgetown, and 47 percent of all students experienced sexual harassment on campus.
The task force has developed 11 recommendations for the university, which draw on focus group discussions, data analyses, and interviews conducted over the past academic year. Olson, Kilkenny, and Title IX Director Laura Cutway presented these recommendations at Tuesday’s forum. The recommendations include new mandatory education for undergraduate and graduate students on sexual assault, expanded sexual misconduct response training for faculty, and increased funding for awareness campaigns.
While much of the report centered on the expansion of programs already in place at Georgetown, such as online bystander intervention training software, Olson and Kilkenny announced several changes in university policy following the report’s release. A new Coordinated Community Response Team will replace the longstanding Sexual Assault Working Group. The team will consult with campus groups on sexual assault response policy.
Additionally, all GUPD officers will now undergo a minimum of eight hours of training on responding to sexual misconduct. Health Education Services will also hire a new full-time staff member.
The report highlighted the importance of student participation in the response to sexual assault on campus. Virginia Young (SFS ’19), the director of GUSA’s coalition on sexual assault and student safety, spoke at the forum about her own work. “Student involvement in work against sexual assault is imperative to reducing risk on campus,” she wrote in a later email to the Voice. “I like to say that though we cannot stop sexual assault, we can work to stop a lot of them. We can change a culture that treats assault with ambivalence. Change a campus that doesn’t understand consent.”Young said that while she generally appreciated the university’s efforts to solve the issue and its approach to diversity, she believed that the administration’s response was in some ways inadequate. Other students in attendance voiced similar sentiments. “I think acknowledging that there is a problem is always the first step and that’s promising. But I think it remains to be seen on the action that we take, as a community,” said Melody Singh, a grad student.
Joshua Dermott of the Office of General Counsel stated at the forum that despite the attention given to recent changes in Department of Education policy on sexual misconduct, he doubted that they would result in any significant change in university policy. “I think we’re steadfast in commitment to this work,” he said, after the issue was raised by the co-chairs, and noted that the university’s efforts to address sexual misconduct go back decades. “I don’t see our policies or procedures changing anytime soon, unless they’re required to by law.”
The task force disbanded after the report’s publication, although many of those involved will work now for the new response team. The university will administer a second Student Climate Survey later this year to evaluate the effect of the new policies.
Image Credit: Liz Teitz