This is how the University of Oregon has tackled sexual assault in the last year
This story is one part of a series of articles on sexual assault awareness at the University of Oregon. Read Emerald editor Sami Edge’s letter to find out why we’ve dedicated today’s edition of Emerald Monday to the topic.
Pressure on the University of Oregon to change policies surrounding sexual assault prevention and response began in earnest last May, following allegations that three men’s basketball players had sexually assaulted a university freshman.
Then-president Michael Gottfredson held a press conference on May 9, 2014, to address sexual violence on campus a few days after news of that event was publicized.
“Until we have a campus where every individual feels safe, where everyone is respected and where no instance of sexual violence is tolerated, we will not consider it good enough,” Gottfredson said.
Nearly a year later, organizations across campus — from Fraternity and Sorority Life to faculty and athletics — are still ardently raising awareness of the issue. Sometimes those groups work together. Sometimes they squabble about which solution will be best for the UO community. Regardless of internal disputes, the UO has maintained a strong discussion around ending sexual violence in the 12 months since it shot to the center of the campus’ consciousness.
Here’s a look at institutional progress in the year since that conversation took off:
Gottfredson resigned in July 2014, only a few months after he announced the university’s intent to resolve the issue — but not before he was able to put together a presidential panel to review the UO’s policies on sexual assault. He also announced increased funding for the Division of Student Life — the UO division tasked with responding to survivors and handling student conduct infractions.
Interim President Scott Coltrane has continued to devote attention to the cross-departmental discussion on how to end sexual violence at the UO throughout his tenure during the 2014-2015 school year. On April 3, 2014, Coltrane announced a comprehensive plan to prevent sexual violence and protect assault survivors who choose to report. The plan is oriented around hiring an assistant vice president for sexual assault who will have “authority, responsibility, and access to all of the divisions on campus that work to address sexual assault,” Coltrane said in the email he sent to students.
The UO will also be committing $500,000 to the effort for new “prevention, response staffing and programs,” establishing an advisory council, launching a bystander intervention program to train students on how to prevent sexual assault and increasing the number of campus investigators and confidential reporters. The UO will also be participating in a number of additional surveys to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campus.
While these steps are a move in the right direction, Dr. Jennifer Freyd, a nationally-recognized researcher on campus assault and a UO psychology professor, doesn’t agree with all of them. She says the new VP position is too much for one person and the position lacks the authority and autonomy necessary for the job.
“That new position is profoundly insufficient for what we need,” Freyd said. “We need so much more power here.”
Freyd has also been vocally opposed to the university’s response to a lawsuit that the survivor of the alleged sexual assault last spring filed against basketball coach Dana Altman and the UO. The university filed a counterclaim to this lawsuit, essentially suing the plaintiff, which was a severe step backwards, Freyd said.
The university retracted the counterclaim in late February soon after a public outcry. The case against the university remains ongoing.
Though Freyd has been dissapointed by some administrative decisions in the past year, she recognizes that she’s not alone in the fight for change.
“The other thing that I think gets lost when people like me complain is that there are some superb employees here working on these issues,” Freyd said. “They’re underpowered, they’re under-staffed… but those people are doing a very good job.”
According to Associate Dean of Students Sheryl Eyster, the UO has a new infrastructure for staff members on campus that has “greatly enhanced” the support available to students. The new positions include two crisis and support staff members, two equal opportunity specialists and Title IX investigators, a detective sergeant in the UOPD who specializes in sexual violence, and a student conduct investigator. There’s also a new website — safe.uoregon.edu — that’s a compilation of UO’s survivor resources.
Additionally, according to the president’s website, $15,000 was added for an emergency fund to support survivors, and $90,000 in additional resources was provided this academic term to support prevention and education staffing.
“Hiring additional staff members that have the skill and the passion to help with these issues has already doubled our efforts in terms of designing effective programs and having more visibility on the campus,” Eyster said via email. According to Eyster, there is also a new training program that will launch in fall 2015 that will engage UO’s freshman population.
“Our goal is to continually look at ways to be consistently effective with our prevention efforts,” Eyster said. According to Eyster, the UO is unique in that the university has diverse methods of sexual assault prevention, like the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Team’s experiential training and community engagement initiatives like the FSL Task Force project.
Eyster said that the efficacy of these programs is measured through surveys, and that there is a study being done by a doctoral student on these advocacy and response programs that will look at strengths and gaps in these services.
“We have finally moved beyond this issue on our campus of this solely being an issue for the Women’s Center to solve,” Eyster said. “This is everyone’s issue.”
The UO Senate is a governing body made up of students and faculty. The senate can create resolutions and legislation, but most big decisions are handled by the president’s office and the board of trustees.
This year the senate proposed several revisions to the student code of conduct dealing with sexual assault. It formed a committee on sexual and gender-based violence, created a resolution on UO’s confidentiality for therapy records and circulated a resolution rejecting UO’s counter lawsuit against the survivor of an alleged assault.
Last spring the senate formed the Task Force to Address Sexual Violence and Survivor Support to create a report with recommendations for UO to better handle sexual assault. That report, named 20 Students Per Week, was published in November.
“The problem I think is that nothing happened because of the report,” task force co-chair Carol Stabile said. “Here we are in April, and really effectively what’s changed?”
One major development next fall is the appointment of a new campus president, Mike Schill, who is currently a dean at the University of Chicago law school.
“One possibility is that our new president will help us…I heard that when he was here he was asking questions and his response was at least not shying away from the language and the topic.” Freyd said. “We’ll see when he comes—‘will he tackle it or will he be one more person that just shoves it under the table again?'”
The university says it’s not done with this issue.
“We must respect each other and take care of each other,” spokeswoman Julie Brown said. “Along with campuses across the country, we share the responsibility of demanding this culture.”