#MeToo forces universities to do more on campus for students
By Brianna Crummy and Riddhi Sarkar
Some college campus administrations confronted the #MeToo movement with pre-existing programming and institutions to prevent and respond to sexual violence. Students, however, question the effectiveness of these measures.
Title IX offices, consent training and sexual assault prevention programming put universities on the forefront of the #MeToo movement and allowed them to notice the impact of the movement on their campuses.
American University’s Title IX Program Officer Regina Curran has anecdotally seen the effects of the #MeToo conversation with people coming to her office.
Curran said the “most profound change and impact” is the increase in the number of reports they received regarding sexual harassment and sexual violence since the movement grew in late 2017. She said that her colleagues across the country are experiencing the same rise in cases.
The number of reports increased “noticeably around the end of October beginning of November,” Curran said.
Although individuals are not explicitly stating their choice to come forward is tied to the #MeToo movement, Curran said there is an overwhelming sense that it is related to the conversation right now.
“I always say that my job is to oversee the university’s response to sexual violence, relationship violence, and stalking. Day to day, I’m the person who receives reports, when employees or students chose to report incidents. I do out reach to those students, offer accommodations and supports to those students. Our office does investigations if students are requesting if a policy has been violated. Even if someone who is not confidential is still private. I don’t have to report to anyone else, we keep the information private, we do not share it with any parties who doesn’t need to know it and certainly do not share it with anyone outside of the university community. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in our reporting numbers since then [the #metoo movement]. It really started to increase in late October and early November, a few weeks following the Harvey Weinstein story breaking and things like that. There are indicating factors that the #metoo movement was pretty major in that. I think we’re seeing increased reports because people are more comfortable coming forward.I do think AU is supportive of students, and is working hard at addressing discrimination, violence, and harassment.” (Regina Curran, Title IX Program Officer)
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Austin Smith, a resident assistant who is finishing his third year at the University of Texas at Austin, agreed that there is an increase in the number of conversations about sexual harassment and violence in the wake of the national talk last fall.
This is important to Smith, who is a member of various campus groups working on issues surrounding consent training and sexual assault resources, like Voices against Violence, Sure Walk and the Interpersonal Violence Peer Support program.
“Something that I’m really glad has come out of that is, ‘What’s next?’” Smith said. “People who maybe weren’t aware of the severity of the issue are becoming energized and they want to know what they can do.”
Education about what is acceptable behavior — instead of focusing on telling survivors how to defend themselves — is key to ending relationship violence and sexual assault, Smith said.
“I want us to create a culture where sexual assault or relationship violence or stalking — where that is unacceptable,” Smith said.
Training for resident assistants
Smith was dissatisfied with the training provided by his university for the resident assistants about how to handle incidents of sexual violence, saying it was not adequate training to support their residents, so he took matters into his own hands.
In October 2017, Smith put together an hour-long presentation on sexual violence, survivor support, resources on- and off- campus and presented it to his colleagues.
Smith is now working to make his presentation a permanent part of future resident assistant orientations, so the assistants can know how to support their residents beyond reporting a sexual assault.
Carly Cottone from the University of Maryland at College Park works in the CARE to Stop Violence office as the outreach liaison where the staff provides programming similar to Smith’s proposal. She informs the campus of the different types of prevention programming offered.
Cottone said her office has received more requests than in the past for educational programming since the #MeToo movement last fall.
“We think that’s obviously really great, a lot of student groups are empowered and are taking the initiative to host their own events and programs,” Cottone said. “Just seeing how much more students are doing on their own and how they’re requesting services from us in that regard has definitely gone up.”
Another student working to promote these conversations is Myrta Asplundh, a senior at Connecticut College. Asplundh is a member of SafetyNet, a campus group made up of students focused on raising awareness on topics surrounding sexual assault and domestic violence. She decided to join the group after participating in the Green Dot bystander intervention program that is offered to all students.
Although Asplundh is happy about the resources her college provides, she said that there is not much time spent on consent training during orientation, but students have the option to participate in a longer Green Dot training at a time of their choosing.
“I think [consent training] should be longer, but the point is to hopefully inspire the freshmen to come to the longer training,” Asplundh said.
Impact of #MeToo movement
One of American University’s resources outside of Title IX is the Sexual Assault Prevention Coordinator in the Wellness Center, Maya Vizvary. Vizvary works with students as a confidential resource and provides training to peer educators for their programming. She said her office has also felt the impact of the #MeToo movement.
“I think we’ve seen an uptick but not like a substantial one,” Vizvary said. “It’s been triggering for a lot of clients that we’ve had.”
She agreed with Curran that survivors’ willingness to report has increased since there has been an outpouring of stories.
Lola Taiwo is in a similar role to Vizvary at the University of Maryland. She serves as the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Graduate Coordinator in the Department of Fraternity and Sorority Life. Taiwo’s office requires that each Greek life chapter offer one of their programs with a 35 percent attendance rate.
An example of a program is the Ten Man Plan and the Ten Woman Plan, a nine-week program that covers topics ranging from bystander intervention to what it means to be a survivor, how to deal with disclosures, healthy and unhealthy relationships and several others.
“For the most part they really enjoy it,” Taiwo said.
However, she added that some of the students don’t like the program as much.
Anthony Gagliardi, a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity at the University of Maryland, said he felt like the conversation was most productive when partnered with a sorority, which only occurred for one week.
“Things were able to be said in a controlled setting,” Gagliardi said.
Both the men and women in the room were able to have a conversation from their own perspectives in a constructive environment.
Overall, Gagliardi said he felt the program was beneficial and he learned something, however, there should have been more opportunities for both the fraternity and sorority members to converse about these topics.
He said that the actions of his fraternity brothers have definitely changed since last fall.
“You don’t want to be the fraternity that has the reputation of taking advantage of women,” Gagliardi said.
Taiwo agreed that there has been a shift on the University’s campus since the #MeToo movement.
“I think that feedback has changed a little bit, I think fraternities want to learn how to not fall into that category,” Taiwo said.
There are steps that can be taken aside from prevention training and consent programming.
Lynne Adrine, the director of the D.C. graduate program at Syracuse University S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication sat on a panel at the Newseum on April 25 where she talked about equality in the newsroom.
“We have to have those conversations before we send them [students] out to internships and jobs,” said Adrine.
Adrine said a conversation about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behavior in the newsroom is “long overdue in the classroom.”
Curran’s office has been looking for ways to implement the actions Adrine mentioned.
She said they have increased their focus on preparing students for life after college. More resources are being developed for students in internships or positions outside of the university.
As far as any changes made to the office or the prevention programming at American University, Curran said that the infrastructure was already in place.
“We felt like, in particular from the prevention lens, we were doing a pretty good job,” Curran said. “We’ve been keeping that up.