Justin Peligri: At CI, University lacks clear messaging about sexual assault resources

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Colonial Cabinet members perform skits about safe sex at Colonial Inauguration in 2012.

We all remember skit night at Colonial Inauguration. It’s one of the highlights of the University’s summer orientation program.

While fun and mostly lighthearted, the night is also an opportunity for new students to learn about college life – particularly, detailed information about controversial topics like sexual violence and safe sex – in a refreshingly frank and genuine way.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Justin Peligri

But there’s one part of this year’s skits, underway this month, that should raise eyebrows. In a conversation about sexual violence on campus, Colonial Cabinet members tell freshmen that to learn more about their rights in the event of an assault, they can contact GW’s Title IX coordinators.

The University’s website lists Terri Harris Reed, vice provost for diversity and inclusion, as Title IX coordinator, with other staff members enumerated as assistant coordinators. They work to ensure GW’s compliance with the federal law that forbids gender discrimination in schools.

That law includes standards for preventing and responding to sexual assault, which President Barack Obama has moved into the spotlight in recent months.

But unfortunately, there’s still a gap in GW’s support network for sexual assault survivors: The University has yet to replace Deputy Title IX Coordinator Tara Pereira, who stepped down from her post in December. That’s not something campus leaders are telling freshmen at CI.

The informal counseling, education and moral support Pereira provided – sometimes outside of her formal job description – made her essential to the GW community. Unlike other University bigwigs, she was a friendly face that many people knew and loved.

On paper, it looks like the University has its bases covered with a list of administrators who include the term “Title IX” next to their names. But we are still failing victims when we neglect to replace a point-person – well-known by student activists and survivors alike – with a new leader to advocate for them.

I’m not talking about a small percentage of students, here: One in five college-aged women are survivors of completed or attempted sexual assault, according to federal studies. Those at GW who choose to share their stories, get help or take judicial action now lack an administrator dedicated to guiding them.

The University expected to hire Pereira’s replacement as early as April. But spring has come and gone, and GW spokespeople told me the search is still “ongoing” and will continue during the fall semester.

Why is the search taking so long? The University has remained silent on that question. By the time the administration hires someone new, GW will have missed its No. 1 opportunity to introduce a new deputy Title IX coordinator to incoming students: freshman orientation.

During CI skits, the University should be more transparent with incoming students. It’s a shame there isn’t a replacement for Pereira yet, but the bigger worry here is that freshmen now mistakenly think that GW has its house in order.

If the University wants to demonstrate its interest in protecting the needs of sexual assault survivors, it must prioritize filling Pereira’s position as quickly as possible. Until that has happened, the information presented at CI is misleading.

Justin Peligri, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet senior columnist.

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