Staff Editorial: When it comes to sexual violence survey results, knowledge is power

GW released the results of its campus climate survey about unwanted sexual behavior last week, and at first blush, the numbers are overwhelming.

More than a third of LGBT undergraduates say they have experienced unwanted sexual behavior during their time at GW. About one in five freshman women feel like this campus is unsafe at night. Eighteen percent of students admitted to being perpetrators of unwanted sexual behavior. A staggering 80 percent reported that they don’t know how to contact the University’s primary sexual harassment responders.

It’s a lot to take in at once, and it’s OK to be scared by these numbers. Many of us are.

But as a community, we can’t let this fear paralyze us, and we can’t let these numbers define us. We’re defined by our response to them, and we should take them as motivation to tackle this problem head on.

This is something we have to deal with together because at the end of the day, the problems revealed by this survey aren’t the responsibility of any one group – not just the University, not just our professors, not just students or parents. The climate surrounding unwanted sexual behavior is a problem that affects the entire GW community, meaning we all have a responsibility to help address it.

For starters, knowledge is power. Look at these numbers, understand them and arm yourself with this information. With this baseline, we’re now more empowered than we’ve ever been to measure change. We know now which groups to target with education, how our peers on campus feel about these issues and, more generally, what the University’s climate is like. We have the vocabulary to discuss it, and that’s powerful even on its own.

More importantly, now is the time to try everything. Pull out all the stops – everything but the kitchen sink.

A series of initiatives have been proposed over the past year to curb sexual harassment on this campus and nationwide, and now is the time to try to implement them. Admittedly, some may be more successful than others. Some may take longer to put in place, while some can be done tomorrow.

But what’s important is that there’s something for everyone to do – every person has a part to play. Following the release of the survey results last week, University officials – specifically, Title IX Coordinator Rory Muhammad – said they are working on a number of top-down initiatives, like developing a streamlined one-sheeter about how to report sexual violence and creating online training for students.

In the meantime, the community doesn’t have to sit back and wait for these plans to go into effect. Faculty should educate themselves about GW’s sexual harassment policies so they can better aid survivors who ask for their help, and professors should think about adding resources to their syllabi. Student organizations and communities – such as Greek chapters, athletes and freshmen – should take every opportunity to participate in the bystander intervention training that are already in place on campus.

GW should also consider requiring sexual violence education programs for incoming freshmen at Colonial Inauguration, as has been suggested by Students Against Sexual Assault.

While these solutions are getting underway, there are small things we can all do in our daily lives to contribute to the ongoing process of ending sexual violence.

For starters, SASA’s membership has doubled in the past two years. The University has already called upon members of this vocal campus group, along with other student leaders, to represent the student body in high-level discussions about sexual violence. Students should engage with SASA, as well as other campus organizations focused on this issue – like the Feminist Student Union – to spread awareness among as much of the student body as possible.

This survey didn’t specifically address sexual assault or rape: But it did acknowledge the behaviors that contribute to rape culture on campus, like unwanted sexual looks and jokes, sexual rumors and unwanted sexual messages. Even those of us who understand that sexual violence is wrong are sometimes guilty of these micro-aggressions, and changes in our everyday behavior can go a long way.

Taken together, the goal of all this work is to improve the campus climate at GW. It’s to create an environment in which survivors of sexual violence are comfortable reporting their experiences, where everyone feels safe traversing Foggy Bottom at night and where students know not to perpetuate unwanted sexual behavior.

In the survey, 64 percent of undergraduate students said GW should do more to raise awareness of sexual harassment issues. In the coming weeks and months, the University will hopefully try to do its part. As students, it’s also time to do ours.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Robin Jones Kerr and contributing opinions editor Sarah Blugis, based on discussions with managing director Justin Peligri, sports editor Nora Princiotti, design editor Sophie McTear, senior designer Anna McGarrigle and design assistant Samantha LaFrance.

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