By Jill Dunlap
The news about sexual violence on campus can seem dire and often overwhelming to parents, current and potential students, and campus administrators. It seems that every day a new study is released about campus sexual violence, its prevalence, and the culture that perpetuates it. While it might seem easier to hide under the covers and never read the news again, it is important to recognize the good that has come from the increased attention to campus sexual violence. In fact, April is the best time to look around and appreciate all of the new and innovative sexual violence prevention and awareness programming taking place on college campuses. A mere five years ago, campus sexual violence prevention was likely the responsibility of a part-time prevention educator or student groups on campus who put on well-intentioned and perhaps sporadic prevention programs for students. With the new requirements under VAWA, and the more prominent role of Title IX coordinators in addressing hostile environments related to sexual violence, prevention programming has moved to the top of the priority list on many colleges. The greatest hope I feel is when I see campuses going beyond meeting the requirements to provide incoming students with prevention programs and developing multi-pronged prevention programs that span a student’s entire career on campus. Many campuses have well-developed strategic plans for sexual violence prevention programming. Other campuses have moved beyond defining VAWA crimes for students, and are training students on how to respond to disclosures by their peers and get them connected to resources. Prevention programming is increasingly evidence-informed and is moving away from single, one-hour interventions that happen only during orientation.
We are beginning to see the results of these efforts. This week, University of Connecticut released the results of a campus survey on sexual violence that found, among other things, that 55% of respondents knew how to report an incident of sexual violence and knew the confidential resources available to them. Surveys on other campuses have also indicated that more students are aware of their Title IX rights. While these results may speak more to awareness rather than a decline in the prevalence of sexual violence, they are telling us that students are absorbing the messages delivered via prevention programming on campus.
The other good news is that parents and students now have another measure to inform their decisions about where to attend college. Potential students can still look to Clery Act numbers to assess safety, but they can also look to the comprehensive prevention programming campuses provide—including who provides the programming, how often, and the types of programs campuses are providing.
Finally, the good news for campuses is that they are not alone in efforts to prevent sexual violence. This spring alone, at least three separate federal grant solicitations through the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, the Centers for Disease Control and the Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health were available to help campuses develop and assess the effectiveness of sexual violence prevention programs.
The problem clearly has not been fixed, and sexual violence on campus remains a major concern for parents, students and administrators. But, there is hope that the issue is being taken seriously and that campuses are finding innovative ways to prevent sexual violence on campus. Do not let April pass you by without taking part in sexual violence prevention programming on your campus or in your community. Sexual violence impacts every one of us. This issue belongs to all of us and we all play a part in preventing and addressing sexual violence on our campuses and in our communities.
 Lindo, J. M., Siminski, P. M., & Swensen, I. D. (2015). College Party Culture and Sexual Assault (No. w21828). National Bureau of Economic Research.
Jill Dunlap is the Director for Equity, Inclusion, and Violence Prevention at NASPA. She is not only a PIRC friend, but she also served on the Violence Against Women Act Campus SaVE federal negotiated rulemaking committee with the Department of Education in 2014. Her work with that committee assisted in creating guidelines for campuses to follow when complying with new federal regulations on sexual assault, dating and domestic violence and stalking prevention and response. Jill’s work experience also includes having written and managed three Department of Justice Grants with the Office on Violence Against Women, all of which focused on funding campus-based advocates to assist student survivors. In addition, Jill is proud of her substantial work with community survivors through her commitment to volunteer work for local rape crisis agencies and domestic violence shelters for the past 12 years.