A new way to handle Title IX: Prevent assaults in the first place

Bystander intervention is important, experts say, but more education is needed

Facing criticism for their handling of Title IX cases, colleges and universities are implementing strategies to prevent sexual assaults before they ever happen, Robin Wilson reports for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Last summer, new regulations enforcing the Violence Against Women Act took effect, requiring colleges to take action to curb sexual assaults. The regulations state that all new students be informed about safe ways individuals can "prevent harm or intervene in risky situations."

Since then, colleges have been experimenting with strategies that include:

  • Educating students through in-person and online training programs and social media campaigns;
  • Incorporating messages about avoiding assault into classes; and
  • Tracking survivors of assault to ensure they graduate.

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"Training people how to adjudicate assault cases is Job One," says Peter Lake, director of the Center for Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University College of Law. "But campuses see how frustrating it is to try to defeat sex assault with adjudication techniques alone. Title IX coordinators are now starting to become almost like an academic department, teaching people about culture change."

It doesn't end with bystander intervention

Bystander intervention is gaining traction among colleges as a sexual assault prevention strategy. One program, called Green Dot, was developed in 2008 at the University of Kentucky by Dorothy Edwards, who directed the school's Violence Intervention and Prevention Center. She has since made Green Dot into a nonprofit entity that helps colleges deliver bystander training and other prevention strategies to the campus community.

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But aside from bystander training, Edwards encourages leaders to get the whole campus involved on day-to-day basis. She recalls that during her time at Kentucky, faculty and staff made simple changes that contributed to broader awareness and prevention efforts. For example, some professors added brief statements to their syllabuses saying that sexual violence is not tolerated. And one dean wore a Green Dot bracelet at work each day.

"The question is, what do we do to establish the norms on a university campus that violence won't be tolerated and that everyone is expected to do their part?" Edwards says. "We call it community mobilization."

Some schools have taken more innovative approaches to educating the campus community. For example, Virginia Commonwealth University's (VCU) political science department is offering a new course this spring on Title IX. And in one French course at the school, students read a text and watch its film version, both of which include a scene that could be interpreted as sexual assault.

"The deep discussions needed for understanding and addressing issues of sexual violence are well suited to a classroom environment," says Gail Hackett, provost and vice president for academic affairs at VCU (Wilson, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/29).


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