Last month, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges and universities under investigation for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases, in violation of Title IX. The schools on the list ranged from Ivy League institutions to state universities to small liberal arts colleges.
Drexel was not on the list, but administrators aren’t taking anything for granted. Drexel is working to prevent and appropriately resolve sexual assault cases with the help of faculty, professional staff and students.
What does Drexel do to ensure it follows the law and responds effectively and fairly to reported sexual assault? What should students know about Drexel’s policies on sexual assault, and how can they help keep the campus safe? DrexelNow talked with Michele Rovinsky-Mayer, Drexel’s associate vice president for equality and diversity and Title IX Coordinator, to find out.
Title IX is widely known for its relationship to athletics, but what does it have to do with sexual assault?
Title IX is a federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in programs that receive federal funding, and Drexel receives federal funds through financial aid, making it subject to the law. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are forms of gender discrimination.
Why has sexual assault at colleges and universities been such a major topic of discussion lately?
It’s a national problem. One in five women is sexually assaulted during college, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Most college students who are victims of sexual assault are freshmen or sophomores, most know their attacker and many are victims of incapacitation assault — assault while they’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
President Obama is concerned about the issue, and he created a task force to address it. The release of the 55 institutions under investigation puts the focus on accountability. But those aren’t the only institutions where sexual assault is happening.
Why are those institutions under investigation?
Most of the investigations result when people are unhappy with the outcome of the process of responding to a sexual assault allegation. But at some universities and colleges that have received additional public attention, victims of sexual assault felt that they were discouraged from reporting their assaults and that there was an uncoordinated, siloed response.
What is Drexel doing to respond effectively to reported sexual assault?
We have a new comprehensive sexual harassment and misconduct policy, approved in September 2013. It supplements our equality and nondiscrimination policy, and it goes into great depth about what our response will be to reported sexual assault. It covers any Drexel community member, not just students. And it covers not just sexual assault, but sexual harassment, stalking, intimate partner violence and same-sex relationships.
And what is Drexel doing to prevent sexual assault?
We’re providing new sexual assault prevention training, which will be offered through orientation and the “University 101” course. We’ve trained RAs, orientation staff, academic advisers and others on our policy and related issues.
What is the role of alcohol in sexual assault on college campuses?
Alcohol plays a significant role. Among the cases that we see at Drexel, 85 to 90 percent involve alcohol use by the complainant, the respondent or both.
Sexual assault is engaging in sexual activity without consent — “a freely and affirmatively communicated willingness to engage in sexual behavior,” according to our Title IX policy. An individual who is incapacitated is not able to make rational, reasonable judgments and therefore is incapable of giving consent. That means that engaging in sexual activity with an incapacitated person violates University policy and could result in criminal or civil liability. For more information, refer to page 10 of the sexual harassment and misconduct policy.
What should students do if they have been sexually assaulted?
We want them to report it. They can report it confidentially, through the Counseling Centers on the University City or Center City campuses or through external confidential organizations. Or they can contact me or one of the deputy Title IX coordinators. Contact information for all those options can be found on our Title IX resource webpage. We want people to feel comfortable reporting incidents of sexual assault or other sexual misconduct.
And what should students do if they hear from their roommate or someone else that a possible sexual assault occurred?
The answer is the same: Report it. The University expects all community members to take action to ensure that sexual assault is reported. Bystanders or third parties should report incidents to me or one of the deputy Title IX coordinators. The report would not be confidential, but it would be kept to only those who need to know, and community members will be protected from retaliation.
As always, if there’s an emergency, you should call 911.