Pending analysis will determine how UO moves forward against sexual assault
In December of 2012, Carol Stabile remembers warning colleagues that if the University of Oregon didn’t address its handling of sexual assault, the situation would erupt. Two years later, UO is in the national spotlight for its handling of alleged sexual assault. Last May, three members of the UO men’s basketball team left the UO in the wake of sexual assault allegations and this fall a survey found a higher than expected rate of assault on campus.
“I think that the May case was a catalyst,” Stabile said. “Long before that case happened, there were many, many other cases and there were many other instances of really problematic behaviors.”
Stabile is now the co-chair of the Senate Task Force to Address Sexual Violence and Survivor Support. The task force presented its final report, 20 Students Per Week, at a University Faculty Senate meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 5. Its report aims to change the culture that perpetuates sexual assault at UO through a series of recommendations and deadlines.
One in five women are sexually assaulted in college, according to the White House and Center for Disease Control. That statistic, along with the UO Campus Climate Survey by Jennifer Freyd and the White House’s Not Alone report, were used to craft the recommendations of the task force.
A matter of time
Sexual assault at universities is nothing new, but new efforts are underway to correct it at the UO.
To do so, UO administrators must sift through numerous reports and recommendations to decide how to address the problem and how much money to spend correcting it. Right now, the administration is waiting on a report from the President’s Review Panel and a gap analysis from the Division of Student Life before making any major decision.
“One of the things that I’m concerned about is that all these proposals should have more discussion,” Interim President Scott Coltrane said in an interview with the Emerald. “Particularly with students.”
While both Coltrane and Stabile encourage continued discussion of sexual violence issues, Stabile emphasizes the urgency of the situation while UO’s timeline is more rooted in continued research. Coltrane says the other reports and analysis aren’t available until December and he wants to compare those reports before rushing into action.
“Universities move very slowly and it’s one of the frustrations doing this work,” Stabile said. Stabile and her colleagues are working to make sure that the recommendations are implemented instead of just discussed. The task force did push back some of its deadlines to focus on continued discussion while editing its recommendations.
“There’s something that happens, especially around sexual assault, that the ideas don’t then get translated into practices,” Stabile said.
Coltrane promises that the recommendations won’t slip through the cracks.
“I can assure you that these won’t get lost,” Coltrane said. “These are very important. It really has come to the forefront nationally and we’re part of some of those national discussions as well.”
The cost of preventing sexual assault
The task force’s recommendations come with a hefty price tag and several unknown costs. The greatest unknown cost is associated with creating a new office to address sexual violence. Stabile and her team think a centralized location that consolidates resources spread over campus would make it easier for survivors to find help.
The cost would be sizable, but is currently undefined. Coltrane isn’t prepared to give specific figures without seeing the other reports and recommendations.
“We’ll probably make more investments,” Coltrane said. “I just don’t want to prefigure that before we have all the proposals in front of us and then talk about them as a community.”
Coltrane said that the university hopes to have reviewed all reports and cleared a path forward by the end of the 2014-2015 academic year.
“Some universities embarked on efforts, either assessments or programmatic changes, and then regretted it, Coltrane said. “We want to make sure we learn from other people’s mistakes and get a consensus. It’s too important to go forward too quickly.”
Since May, there has been increased funding for sexual assault resources at the UO. One example of this is $15,000 Coltrane allocated to an emergency fund for survivor support and prevention at the request of the task force in September.
Resources and prevention efforts outside the task force
The Division of Student Life facilitates resources for survivors of sexual assault at the UO. According to the department’s associate dean of students, Sheryl Eyster, the Division of Student Life has grown its staff and allocated more resources to helping address sexual assault. This includes increased partnership with Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team (SWAT), creating a 24-hour sexual violence hotline and more.
“We’ve been able to really strengthen what we’ve been able to provide to students over the last good year and a half,” Eyster said.
The UO Organization Against Sexual Assault launched in 2014, independent of the basketball case. The student group aims to prevent sexual assault on college campuses and spread education. OASA submitted its own response to the senate task force’s recommendations.
Recently Lauren Appell, OASA co-director, has seen a large jump in funding and support for sexual assault prevention “It started at the beginning of last year,” Appell said. “But the case in May really drastically increased it.”
Sexual assault is a national issue
While one incident brought the issue of sexual assault to the spotlight last May, the case is anything but isolated. At the beginning of this year, the White House created the Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and has published several reports on the issue nationwide.
Recently, the White House started the “It’s On Us” campaign, which UO signed on to as a partner. The White House is also piloting its own sexual assault climate survey with Rutgers University.
Stabile says it’s high time for a change.
“I don’t know how to change a culture,” Stabile said. “I don’t think anyone knows but that’s what we started here. It’s daunting and it’s exciting and it’s really, really important.”