From IWU Magazine, Spring 2015
IWU takes community approach to deal with sexual assault
Even the casual observer might be prompted by media reports to think sexual assaults
on college campuses have spiraled out of control in the past few years.
That perception has grown in part due to greater scrutiny of the problem. Protections
under Title IX, the landmark federal civil right that prohibits sex discrimination
in education, now extend to sexual violence against students. Associate Provost Frank
Boyd, IWU’s Title IX coordinator, explains that an institution whose culture fails
to appropriately address issues of sexual assault is, by definition, denying women and others — including members of the gay, lesbian and transgender community — access
to educational opportunity.
Title IX compels colleges and universities to resolve reports of rape, whether or
not an alleged victim reports the incident to the police. If a college fails to handle
cases promptly and fairly, the U.S. Department of Education can find that it has created
a hostile learning environment. The department is now investigating more than 100
colleges and universities for possible violations of Title IX related to alleged sexual
violence. For institutions that fall out of compliance, federal financial aid can
Illinois Wesleyan is not among the institutions under investigation. That hasn’t stopped
IWU administrators from working hard to address the problem of sexual assault on several
Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Karla Carney-Hall sees the
increased national focus on campus sexual assault as an opportunity for IWU to emerge
as a leader among liberal arts institutions in dealing proactively with the issue.
This past year, IWU’s sexual misconduct policies were revised, and training to acquaint
all campus employees with the new policy changes was administered. Initiatives to
partner with community allies are also underway, and a survey to gauge student perceptions
of the campus climate was conducted this spring.
At the start of the fall 2014 semester, the University launched a major campaign aimed
at preventing sexual assault through education. Developing programming around a “Consent
is Sexy” theme, efforts to increase students’ awareness began at first-year orientation
and have continued through the academic year.
From posters in nearly every campus restroom to programming in residence halls and
through student organizations, “we have tried to be very big and very visible,” says
Among the messages students receive are precise definitions of both consent and absence
of consent, as well as the fact that most sexual assaults on college campuses occur
between people who know one another.
IWU also has a strong program for bystander-focused prevention of sexual assault.
Carney-Hall says the bystander approach is nationally regarded as among the most promising
tools in preventing sexual assault. It encourages the community to take ownership
of sexual violence as a problem and to speak up when they witness potentially dangerous
situations or sexist language.
Bystander training is designed to give students the knowledge and creative tools they
need to give them confidence to intervene in situations “they think may be problematic
or headed in a wrong path,” said Carney Hall.
“We’ve done bystander intervention training for over 300 students, which is a nice
place to start,” she adds.
Other key factors in the University’s sexual assault program include providing support
for survivors, investigating incidents promptly and adjudicating them fairly, and
protecting the community from sexual predators.
The fact that Illinois Wesleyan’s is a tight-knit, caring community makes support
for such programs a natural fit, Carney-Hall adds. Numbers of reported sexual assaults
on campus have historically been low: four reports of rape in 2013 and one of dating
violence in 2013, according to the most recent statistics available (provided in accordance
with the Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities who participate in federal
financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on or near their
“We expect these [numbers] to go up,” said Boyd, “partly because there are going to
be a number of young men and women who have a better understanding of what comprises
sexual assault. Previously, without education, it was defined as something else. Now
there’s a much clearer understanding of what constitutes sexual misconduct.”
Carney-Hall agrees that increased reporting can be an important indicator that an
institution’s prevention and policy efforts are working. “That means students who
are victims of assault feel they can come forward and get support.”
“We believe we can be a leader and create a climate free of sexual violence and harassment,”
said Carney-Hall. “We really want to connect with students in this. As in shaping
the campus climate, positive student engagement will play the biggest role.”
Part of what that means, she added, is that “students see violence as not just something
between two people, but something that affects the entire community.”
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