On Friday, Dean Bolton sent an all-campus e-mail to update the student body on how the administration has been addressing incidents of sexual assault. Bolton’s e-mail reported the number of sexual assaults and disciplinary cases at the College in the 2011-12 academic year. She further addressed the work of the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention group, whose primary goal is to improve the campus culture surrounding sexual assault by providing better survivor support services and making the reporting and disciplinary processes as transparent as possible.
According to Bolton’s e-mail, 13 sexual assaults were reported on campus in the 2011-12 year. Four victims chose not to pursue disciplinary action against the perpetrator, three of the cases were perpetrated by individuals who do not attend the College – which prevents the College from taking disciplinary action – and six victims of sexual assault chose to pursue disciplinary action. In five of the six cases that pursued disciplinary action, an investigation by the deans’ office and Campus Safety and Security determined that the perpetrators were guilty, and the five students have since been suspended from campus for between one and five semesters.
The e-mail also referenced that many sexual assault cases – up to 90 percent on the average college campus – are not reported, indicating that the number of assaults reported at the College might not accurately reflect the number of assaults committed at the College. From an anonymous survey conducted by the College, the administration estimates that between 45 and 50 assaults occur on campus each year.
In response to these numbers, one of the first areas that the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention group focused on in the past year was First Days education. In particular, the group supervised an overhaul of programming, working with the program “Speak About It” to address issues of sexual assault in a more supportive and relatable way. After the revised presentation, entries participated in facilitated discussions about program and sexual assault with their Junior Advisors (JAs) and members of the Rape and Sexual Assault Network (RASAN).
“This year for the first time we worked with JAs and RASAN together with staff to prepare those conversations,” Bolton said. “JAs and RASAN members were teamed up to start these conversations. I heard from JAs that it worked really well for the themselves, RASAN and first-year students to engage in issues of sexual assault regardless of where they’re coming from [in terms of sexual experience]. I think we’ll continue along that direction.”
The group has also worked to increase bystander intervention training, reaching out to student groups and faculty to increase the number of people trained in bystander intervention on campus.
Focusing on support services, Bolton has spearheaded a charge to train more faculty and staff in providing support to victims of sexual assault. In particular, faculty and staff that work in student affairs are trained multiple times to provide support for victims and ensure that the student affairs staff is prepared to give accurate and helpful information to any victims who approach them.
“The other piece is making sure that all of the student affairs staff are well trained to help people make their way through the process rather than having a small handful of people available,” Bolton said. “We have a goal that the first person a student talks to about an assault – whether that person is a student, staff member or faculty – will be well prepared to be helpful, supportive and informed about ways to get assistance. On the student side that means talking with as many students as possible about resources. I also spoke at the faculty meeting in February on this subject. We’re trying to make sure the first person a student talks to is helpful to them.”
Providing support services also requires the College to utilize a reporting process that is as transparent and accessible as possible. Bolton emphasized that a large part of making reporting easier for victims is to present their options clearly and honestly. “A lot of what we’ve done is to make clear what we do,” she said. “We redid our whole [sexual assault report] website last year to make it much clearer to students what would happen if they report [a sexual assault] and what to expect. We’ve also systematized what steps they’ll go through, so we can tell someone when they come and talk to me exactly what they should expect.”
The third prong of the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention group’s plan is to evaluate the disciplinary and appeals process for perpetrators of sexual assault. According to Bolton, the committee is expected to engage the campus in a wider conversation about reporting over the next month. After assessing the community’s sentiments regarding appropriate disciplinary action, the committee will release its disciplinary recommendations for offenders.
Bolton stressed that while groups like the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention group are working hard to change the campus climate around rape and sexual assault, their work is far from finished.
“There’s a lot of things that we’re doing now that we weren’t doing two or three years ago, but none of those are complete,” Bolton said. “Sexual assault is still a really large and damaging problem on this campus, and we need to do everything we can to make it happen less and to support survivors. As an institution we still need to work on each of the key parts – prevention, awareness and response. There’s still work for me and my colleagues to do on all of this. I’m also really impressed with the work students are doing.”