One in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, and only 12 percent of survivors choose to report the crime to authorities, according to a recent White House report. The statistic is particularly meaningful when one considers that 60 percent of BU’s 30,000-strong student body is female.
University officials had those numbers and more in mind when, in the spring of 2013, they launched a sexual misconduct task force to review policies and procedures for preventing, identifying, and reporting the crime. Members of that task force decided that to create a safer campus, it would be essential to develop a training program for all faculty, staff, and students.
And so, as of this fall, all new faculty and staff began taking an online learning program on sexual misconduct. Starting today, current faculty and staff will also be asked to complete the program, and all students will do the same in the early part of spring semester.
“We hope people see the value and importance of this, to see it as a really good piece of education for them, not just as University faculty and staff, but as citizens,” says Peter Fiedler (COM’77), vice president for administrative services and cochair, along with Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (SED’87), of the sexual misconduct task force.
Marci Bloch, the executive director of organizational development and learning, and a team of University officials took inspiration from an MIT model and spent the summer developing content for BU’s training program, called Sexual Misconduct: The Role of Faculty and Staff in Preventing, Identifying, and Reporting. A separate program specifically targeting the student population will be designed later this semester.
Elmore believes those trainings will push students to think critically about the imagery and messages they receive in popular culture, which, he says, “devalue the level of humanity of women in this society…or seem to say that if you do something violent to women, there’ll be no repercussions.” He thinks the trainings will serve as a reminder, in addition to the introduction freshmen receive at orientation, of BU’s reporting process and disciplinary actions taken in case of sexual misconduct.
This spring, students will be asked to take an online climate survey that will help University officials assess their knowledge and opinion of BU’s resources for survivors of sexual assault.
National media have reported in recent months on the missteps colleges and universities make in handling sexual assault, most notably in cases at Florida State University and Hobart and William Smith Colleges. BU has not escaped that notice. A US Department of Education (DOE) report in May listed BU among 55 colleges and universities under federal investigation for possible violations of Title IX, the 1972 gender equity law that requires schools to investigate all reports of sexual assault. The DOE, through its Office for Civil Rights, enforces the legislation and typically encourages universities under investigation to develop trainings such as the ones BU is launching.
The trainings come at an opportune time for another reason. The Boston University Police Department (BUPD) released its annual security report on October 1, as mandated by the Clery Act, legislation that requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to disclose information about crime on or near their campus. A recent amendment to that act requires that reporting institutions also provide training to all students, faculty, and staff on how to identify, prevent, and report sexual misconduct.
The BU community will complete the online training on Blackboard, which is accessible through mobile and desktop devices. Faculty and staff will receive an email with a link to the program. They will be asked to complete the training within a two-week period and will receive up to two email reminders before that deadline. Department heads will be provided with a monthly list of those individuals who fail to complete the training.
By the end of the 30-minute, online learning module, faculty and staff should know how to recognize sexual misconduct, have an appropriate conversation with anyone who reports sexual misconduct, help by directing the survivor to University or off-campus resources, and report the incident to proper authorities—such as Title IX coordinator Kim Randall or one of multiple deputy coordinators across campus. The only University officials who can claim confidentiality and not report cases of sexual assault are chaplains, the ombudsman, and counselors at the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center, Faculty & Staff Assistance Office, and Behavioral Medicine.
According to this year’s annual safety report, BUPD received 10 reports of forcible sex offenses in 2013. Nearly everyone involved with sexual assault prevention and reporting—from police officers to counselors—acknowledges that the crime is underreported nationwide and on campus. The hope is that the University’s new training program will prevent the crime, while also providing survivors with the tools they need to seek help.
“We want a safe environment for everyone,” Bloch says.