College Orientation and Campus Sexual Assault Prevention

College Orientation and Campus Sexual Assault Prevention


The Dean of Students called the problem of campus sexual assault by its name. I was encouraged that from the first word, he called out the root cause of the problem. I was hopeful the university we chose knew something deeply ingrained in our culture needs to change for campus sexual assault to be prevented. The question I need answered is: What is the school doing to shift the culture?

My family just went to orientation at the university my daughter will attend this fall. She’s excited and ready to start. The world will be wide open to her on this campus, and the school offers her a tremendous path ahead. Her father and I are thrilled for her, but also deeply concerned. After keeping her safe and healthy for 18 years, we’re dropping our daughter into what will likely be her riskiest environment ever, where 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted before graduation.

I’ve been working to prevent campus sexual assault for several years, and it doesn’t seem to be improving. Federal legislation, outside pressure, and demands from students have brought this issue into the light.

Until recently, campus sexual assault was rarely mentioned, and incidents on campus were typically swept under the rug. Now Title IX and the Campus SAve Act require schools to hire staff, provide services for sexual assault victims, create and promote reporting processes, and implement prevention training. Some hire outside packages and programs to comply with federal requirements.

As a parent, I look for more than compliance to regulation. I look for campus sexual assault to stop. I appreciate that there are processes for filing complaints and services to treat and support victims. However, if my daughter ever needs those services, I’ll consider it a failure on the part of the university.

The CDC convened a think tank and created its report Sexual Violence on Campus: Strategies for Prevention, which details essential practices for preventing campus rape. Orientation is an opportunity to speak directly with administrators about how well the school is meeting these recommendations.

Keep Her Safe offers a simple process parents can use to assess a college or university during orientation, and to let administrators know about their expectation that the school implement sexual assault prevention protocols as recommended by the CDC.

Steps to Take at Orientation

1. Pay attention to the portion of orientation that addresses campus safety.

An administrator will probably talk about campus sexual assault. The presentation should include the standard components of prevention training: affirmative consent, bystander intervention, and responsible alcohol use. At the orientation I attended, several skits were performed by a student group dedicated to sexual assault prevention. Substantive student involvement in prevention is recommended, so this is a plus. But keep in mind that addressing the issue in orientation is not enough. According to the CDC, prevention training must be mandatory, ongoing, and delivered in multiple ways.

2. Meet the administrator who made the sexual assault presentation.

Ask for more details about the prevention program. To be effective, there should be mandatory training for every student beyond orientation, including repercussions if it isn’t completed. Training should be delivered in multiple ways; for example, an online program followed by in-person sessions. Research shows that stand-alone online programs or theater performances are not sufficient. There should also be training for staff.

3. Specifically state that the school is expected to have effective prevention practices.

There may be opportunities to talk with various administrators during orientation, or to follow up with an email. Express concern about campus sexual assault. Be specific and tell them that as part of the significant investment being made to their school, it is expected that investment will include extensive efforts to prevent sexual assault.

4. Express that colleges and universities are in a unique position to address sexual violence.

The CDC report acknowledges that stopping sexual violence requires a culture shift which will not be easy or quick. Education is a catalyst for this culture change, and that is the business of colleges and universities. Make this point clear to administrators and encourage them to create a required, for-credit course to help make the culture shift by enlightening all students about misogyny, sexism in media and culture, healthy relationships, positive masculinity, intersectionality, and homophobia.

5. Press school administrators to work to meet the recommendations made by the CDC.

Encourage administrators in person or via email to meet the recommendations laid out by the CDC. Encourage them to take a lead among colleges and universities and be the one that creates and implements the prevention practices that stop campus sexual assault.

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Sheri Heitker Dixon is the founder of Keep Her Safe, a non-profit organization committed to making college campuses safe from sexual assault.

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