No updates on climate survey, sexual assault prevention committee

About seven months after officials distributed GW’s second campus climate survey to students, there are no updates on the results.

University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt said there is no new information on the results from the survey on sexual assault and abuse on campus or on the work of a committee focused on sexual assault and prevention that started meeting more than a year ago. Experts said officials should be transparent because informing the entire University community on their progress leads to more productive outcomes.

Rory Muhammad, the Title IX coordinator, declined to comment on progress from the meetings of the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and what members are discussing in the meetings. Muhammad also declined to comment on reports from the committee and when the results of the campus climate survey will be released.

Climate survey
Officials confirmed in November that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of Research and Analysis were conducting their second annual survey on unwanted sexual experiences on campus. In the second year of the survey, officials said they hoped to get feedback on recent efforts to prevent sexual assault on campus and educate students about available resources.

The first campus climate survey, which was taken by 713 graduate and undergraduate students, found that 80 percent of students surveyed did not know how to contact the Title IX office. The survey results were released in January last year.

The results of the survey fueled a student-led push for in-person sexual assault prevention training at freshman orientation. Freshmen were required to attend sexual assault prevention training, and 97 percent of those students completed the in-person program.

Katie Eichele, the director of the Aurora Center for Advocacy & Education at the University of Minnesota, which develops policies and protocols for responding to sexual assault, said it is important to share the results of the campus climate survey with the student body because students will push for policy changes.

“I have found that the student voice and the student perspective is probably the most powerful in engaging university administration across the nation,” Eichele said.

She said policies on releasing information differ among public and private institutions, and because GW is a private institution, officials might have more leeway on when they can release results.

“The notion of transparency regardless of what the results show in a campus climate survey is so important because if you don’t control the message, the message is going to control you,” Eichele said. “I think that is an institutional choice on why or why not they might release that information publicly.”

Nancy Chi Cantalupo, an assistant professor of law at Georgetown University and a research fellow with the Victim Rights Law Center, said evidence shows that without climate survey data being publicly accessible, it is hard to deal with sexual violence on campus.

“They provide the only real way to assess whether particular sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention methods actually prevent sexual harassment and sexual violence and by how much,” Cantalupo said. “The student body should have access to this data because the data is highly relevant to their lives and experiences as students.”

Committee remains silent
The Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at GW was created in October 2014 after University President Emeritus Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said colleges should be educating women about the dangers of overconsuming alcohol to protect themselves from sexual assault.

The committee is made up of students, staff and faculty members. Members meet monthly and report to the provost’s office.

Muhammad, who became Title IX coordinator after the position sat vacant for 11 months, leads the committee to monitor the University’s compliance with federal laws and to plan education programs. Muhammad has not met with The Hatchet in more than a year after multiple requests.

Maya Weinstein, a former member of the committee who graduated earlier this year, said members had signed a confidentiality agreement, stating that they could not speak with anyone about the meetings.

“No updates is not entirely an accurate statement because this committee had been meeting for a year and developed recommendations, at least,” Weinstein said. “It is frustrating to me because I wanted to be on it and a significant part of the conversation, but I just felt that we needed more transparency.”

Weinstein said that there were four subcommittees that focused on different aspects of sexual assault on campus, such as response and prevention. She said she served as a co-chair of a response subcommittee.

“We created recommendations, and those were sent in December, and the meeting was cancelled,” Weinstein said. “I don’t know what was done with those and how they were discussed come spring. There was an expectation to have recommendations come from each subcommittee sent up to Rory by the end of 2015.”

Laura Zillman, the former vice president of Students Against Sexual Assault and a committee member, said in an email that SASA’s focus this year has been on laying the foundation for new types of education and support. She said their biggest accomplishment was helping to start prevention training sessions for incoming students.

“Starting the sessions was prioritized by CSAPR last year, so that’s one example of how it dovetails with our work,” Zillman said. “I still am not in whatever loop it is that decides when to release survey results or subcommittee reports.”

Amber Paulk, an associate professor of sociology and family studies at the University of North Alabama and a member of the college’s Title IX advisory board, said her university’s Title IX advisory board meets monthly, and the meetings are open to the entire university community.

“Meetings are open to any faculty, student or community member that wants to come,” Paulk said. “It has really been critical, especially in this first year of programming, to be touching base often and hearing back from students about how the programming we planned is going.”

Paulk said universities should release progress reports from committees to show that they have “nothing to hide.”

“That is where people run into problems is when they collect this kind of data, and they don’t share the results, or they share the results in a way that is deceptive or not clear,” Paulk said.

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