As President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan have both said many times, it’s on all of us to stop sexual assault.
This is why Under Secretary Ted Mitchell, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon and other staff at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently met with 11 college students from the Chicago area to discuss the issue of sexual violence and related policies. Student representatives came from Columbia College, Northwestern University, Moraine Valley Community College and the University of Illinois-Chicago.
The group sat down for a roundtable discussion about sexual assault on college campuses, with the goal of ensuring policy makers are connecting the dots between students’ perspectives and needs with policy. Students provided thoughtful feedback about sexual assault trainings for students, the effect professors can have on bolstering or obstructing safe-space learning environments, the need for effective communication strategies for the disbursement of information to students, and what ED can do to help.
Many students voiced the concern that too often, college students don’t know about Title IX and the rights afforded to them until they have become victims. The students said that there should be structures to increase awareness put in place before a problem occurs. While colleges and universities that receive federal funding are required by Clery Act regulations to provide programming for students and employees about sexual assault, colleges and universities often choose to do this only at the beginning of the school year. A student from the University of Illinois-Chicago pointed out that Title IX training should be done consistently throughout the academic year, not only during orientation, when students are overwhelmed with new information and can be distracted.
Our ED team came away from the roundtable impressed by the professionalism and insights of the student participants. By engaging in this roundtable and hearing recommendations for improving the quality of learning environments, all of the leaders in attendance are better equipped with the knowledge and understanding necessary to continue to work toward the eradication of sexual assault on college campuses.
Jessie Brown is Senior Counsel in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.