West Virginia University is launching the “It’s on Us” campaign on campus as part of a national program to help campuses take ownership in preventing and reporting sexual assault.
The campaign is designed to engage the entire campus community in prevention, spread the message that the University does not tolerate sexual misconduct and point those who have faced an assault toward campus resources.
“WVU does not accept sexual misconduct on its campus and there are consequences for this type of behavior,” said James Goins, the University’s Title IX coordinator and director of equity assurance. Title IX refers to a 1972 law requiring gender equity in educational programs that receive federal funding.
Goins said the campaign highlights the changes in how all American universities now handle their response to the issues of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, domestic violence and stalking.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a memo known as a “dear colleague” letter that required educational institutions to become more proactive and take specific steps in handling, investigating and informing the community about sexual assault.
Then in 2013, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act was signed into law and afforded additional rights to campus victims of sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. It laid out additional requirements for how higher education institutions should respond to these incidents.
Click below to hear the WVUToday radio spot about It's on Us.
Goins said the campaign advocates a different way of handling sexual assault from the former approach of authorities encouraging women to take steps to protect themselves. Instead, the campaign says that it’s everyone’s responsibility to intervene if they see activities such as someone trying to isolate another person, giving an individual large quantities of alcohol or carrying an unconscious person to an isolated location.
“Those days are gone when someone can just sit back and watch those things happen and act like it’s not us so we don’t have anything to do with it,” Goins said. We’re encouraging everyone to be a part of this effort to get rid of this type of behavior here – and on every college campus.”
The changes at WVU are most apparent right now as all incoming students and all faculty and staff are required to take online Title IX training that defines inappropriate behavior, specifies who is required to notify authorities when told of a sexual assault and identifies people on campus who are able to keep reports of sexual assault confidential, such as counselors.
Goins’ office now investigates all civil Title IX cases, a responsibility that used to rest with the student conduct board. Following investigation by Goins’ office, cases will then go before the student conduct board, which imposes penalties up to expulsion for violations of the student conduct code.
Provost Joyce McConnell describes the new procedures at WVU as being indicative of just how seriously the University takes the issue of sexual assault.
“We are committed to a zero tolerance policy,” she said, “and we’ve worked hard with our General Counsel’s office and with James to craft a comprehensive process to address cases at every step. The result is that we’re ahead of some of our national peers on this and some institutions are modeling their own policies and procedures on ours.”
When students report sexual assault and misconduct cases, they can now work with one office, the Title IX office under Goins.
Alison Tartaglia, a health education specialist at WELLWVU, said the University had its Green Dot bystander training in place before federal recommendations were issued for educational institutions to create this type of program. Green Dot includes social marketing and speeches as well as training that shows participants how to intervene to keep others safe.
In partnership with WELLWVU, Athletics is incorporating the Green Dot program into student-athlete training to educate students about sexual misconduct and make them aware of campus resources, said Joe Heskett, associate athletic director for sports performance. Athletics is also planning to incorporate the program’s information into athletes’ orientation to WVU.
This fall, the WVU and Marshall baseball teams highlighted the Green Dot program through a video shown at their matchup game. The program is also highlighted at football games.
Now the University is continuing to strengthen the Green Dot and other programs through a 2013-16 Campus Safety Grant from the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women. Through the grant, the University has set up a Coordinated Campus Response team that includes campus and community members who advise on policy, advocacy and delivery of services to victims.
Tartaglia said her office, in collaboration with the local Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center, has also begun training the peer advocates who can help students affected by assault navigate the medical, legal and University systems. The advocates work through RDVIC on call and can speak confidentially with students, direct them to resources and staff a 24-hour hotline.
WVU is also training law enforcement officers and student conduct boards on how to best respond to victims of personal violence.
“The intent is to ensure that our programs are victim-centered and that we are doing everything in our power to ensure that a student victim gets the care that they need,” Tartaglia said.
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