Working to Stop Sexual Violence on U.S. College Campuses

Secretary Duncan heard from students from campuses across the country during a recent Student Voices session. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary Duncan heard from students from campuses across the country during a recent Student Voices session. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

One sexual assault is too many, which is why the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) are playing a strong role in working to address and prevent sexual assault on college campuses.

As part of these efforts, Secretary Duncan recently hosted a Student Voices session with students from campuses across the country to listen to their concerns and learn about the promising actions their colleges and universities are taking to tackle this pressing challenge.

The students represented institutions from California to Georgia and North Carolina to New York.

Under Secretary Ted Mitchell and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon joined Secretary Duncan for the discussion.

“This roundtable is an opportunity for [us] to hear from diverse students from multiple institutions in order to inform our work. We hope this is the kind of conversation that can happen across all of our institutions – one that continues the work of identifying best practices, and increasing the focus on keeping students safe,” Mitchell said.

The roundtable allowed for young leaders – like Raymond Smeriglio, Temple University’s Student Body President – to share his school’s efforts to create awareness and tackle this troubling problem.

“Temple recently conducted a six-month review of the school including three months of groundwork to see what additional resources were needed on campus, and what the campus was already doing right,” Smeriglio explained.

Students also discussed the most effective ways to align awareness efforts between K-12 and institutions of higher education.

Youth leaders like Kevin William Harvey, a senior at Morehouse College in Atlanta, shared what their schools are currently doing to help build strong partnerships with city leadership, raise awareness, and collaborate with experts in the local community.

Molly Walker, from Duke University, shared that many Duke students participate in a program called “Duke Splash,” where students have taught weekend classes to high school youth about gender violence.

Spelman College’s Briana Brownlow discussed her school’s Survivor organization, which coordinates a mentorship program using the arts to help elementary school students begin to be aware of the issues surrounding sexual violence.

Students also talked about the many ways the Obama Administration engages students to address this problem, including the recent launch of the“It’s On Us” campaign, which encourages all members of campus communities to actively think about ways to prevent sexual assault.

The Administration is very concerned about sexual violence on U.S. campuses, and has launched several initiatives to address this issue. In January 2014, President Obama and Vice President Biden established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.

In April of that year, the Task Force released its first report to the President, which includes recommendations to colleges and universities on how to eliminate sexual violence on their campuses. In conjunction with the release of this report, ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a frequently asked questions document to follow up on our Dear Colleague Letter. The Task Force also created NotAlone.gov, which the students praised for including resources from across the government on preventing and addressing sexual assaults in schools.

OCR has also increased transparency around its investigations of this issue. For the first time, the office made public the list of colleges and universities under investigation for their handling of sexual violence complaints.

No one should feel the threat of sexual assault as they pursue their education. This country’s college campuses should be free of violence, and it is our shared responsibility as a nation to end this outrage.

As the students and Department staff who attended this important Student Voices session agreed, finding the solution really is on all of us.

Devon King is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach and a senior at Boston University.