These are strong stances against sexual assault, but one policy with a strict consequence will not end sexual assault on campus — nor will it combat myths or the stigma around rape and rape victims or sexual assailants. University leaders must also create campuses where victims are met with understanding, and students and faculty are more aware that sexual assault is predatory.
To empower victims, to increase the reporting of sexual assaults, and to provide the proper resources to those affected, university leaders must work toward creating a campus culture that collectively recognizes sexual assault and why it is wrong. This can best be achieved through structured conversations about sex and consent, which are organic to students’ social and interpersonal interactions. By knowing the rights and resources available, victims can be empowered to report more cases. Some good examples of this are happening at the University of Maryland and the University of New Hampshire — which teach concepts like bystander intervention — as well as campus-wide campaigns, like Take Back the Night, which raise awareness about sexual violence and distribute educational material about sexual assaults. These programs cannot prevent rape, but they can clarify students’ definitions of rape and promote better conversations for obtaining consent. Prolonged educational programs like these are shown to alter participants’ perceptions of rape and rape-related attitudes: the longer the session, the greater the effect.
Safety is an important aspect for learning, in any environment and at every level. If any students feel victimized or unsafe — and if administrators do not have policies in place to properly address sexual assault on campus — then the school itself has already failed before class even starts.
Claire Bocage is a research assistant focusing on workplace psychology. Reach her via email.