UW-Madison University Health Services will spend an extra $400,000 next academic year for additional staffing and new or expanded programs aimed at reducing student-reported rates of campus sexual violence.
In September, UW-Madison released results of a campus survey that found more than one in four undergraduate women — or 27.6 percent — reported experiencing some form of sexual assault while enrolled, exceeding the 23.1 percent of college women nationwide who reported it.
“It was really shocking,” said UW-Madison senior and sorority leader Sarah Laudon, about the reaction she and other students had when they heard the survey results presented for the first time last fall. “The room was silent. People needed some time to process it.”
A university task force chaired by UHS Executive Director Dr. Sarah Van Orman was formed to study the survey results and come up with recommendations to reduce sexual assault and gender-based violence on campus.
Van Orman and David Blom, the university’s Title IX coordinator, presented the task force recommendations at a media briefing Tuesday. In one of the process improvements that’s already occurred, Blom started supervising campus-based investigations of sexual assault and misconduct accusations last fall so that the previous campus investigative arm, the Dean of Students office, could be responsible only for ruling on the cases.
Many other changes are in the works, with cooperation from all corners of campus required.
Encompassing a multi-pronged strategy focused on increased prevention and education efforts, stronger victim support and more accountability for perpetrators, the overall effort will work to make safety from gender-based violence a shared responsibility, officials said, with the shared benefit of a safer place for all to live and learn.
“The idea of a single program that will change the culture on campus is just not going to happen,” Van Orman said. “But with comprehensive change through multiple channels, we know we can shift the curve on this.”
Besides UHS, partners in the effort include university housing, communications, the provost’s office, the dean of students, university police, professional school deans, the division of student life, and Greek student organizations.
Most of the changes will start this fall, with a new student survey to gauge their efficacy perhaps in spring 2018.
“We definitely do need to make a culture change,” said Laudon, who served on a parallel task force made up of fraternity and sorority leaders that came up with recommendations for organizational changes to the university’s Greek system to fight sexual assault.
Recommendations from Van Orman’s task force include:
- Additional prevention programming for all first-year students in university housing, on topics such as alcohol-facilitated sexual assault, consent and healthy sexuality, with a push to change “cultural norms” that tend to make sexual violence acceptable.
- A new “bystander curriculum” aimed in part at helping students learn the skills to speak up when they see unacceptable behavior by their peers. Among the student groups targeted for the training will be all new members of fraternities and sororities.
- A required program to help all graduate and professional students learn more about campus resources around sexual assault and misconduct issues, after the survey showed they knew less about these topics than undergraduates. The offering expands a pilot program that started Sept. 1.
- More UHS prevention staff, 15 new peer educators and two additional victim advocate positions.
- From the Greek task force, one recommendation is to have a “Safe Sister/Safe Brother” in each chapter with knowledge of campus resources around sexual assault who can support and advise other members.
More than 9,000 UW-Madison students participated in the Association of American Universities survey, part of more than 150,000 students at 27 universities who took it.
In addition to the findings for female students, the local survey found 5.4 percent of UW-Madison male undergraduates reported being sexually assaulted, which is defined for both genders as non-consensual penetration or sexual touching accomplished by force or victim incapacitation, typically fueled by excessive drinking.
Perpetrators of sexual assaults were overwhelmingly identified as fellow students who were male and often a friend or acquaintance. The local survey also found most sexual assaults occurred in student residences — both private apartments and campus residence halls — with assaults disproportionately reported in fraternity houses.