Sexual assault focus groups show pointed action

Credit: Joanne Lo/ Credit: Joanne Lo/

On Sept. 12, Dean of Student Affairs Gina Casalegno sent a campus-wide email drawing attention to further institutional efforts against sexual assault and sexual harassment following the policy approved in April 2013. As part of the update, Casalegno announced curricula revisions, enhanced trainings, increased staffing, and a mandatory online training program for incoming undergraduates called Haven.

As a campus, we have yet to see how implementation of these measures will affect campus culture, but a number of them show promise in changing conversations about sexual violence on campus.

Among the efforts Casalegno highlighted is the establishment of focus groups to facilitate the dialogue. It may seem like a trivial measure, but these focus groups go a step beyond the reactive, largely ineffective town-hall-style discussions we have seen from the administration in the past. The focus groups take a proactive approach by targeting specific groups in the Carnegie Mellon community, including athletes, members of Greek life, and LGBTQ students.

Attendance at the focus group session on Wednesday, for example, is reserved for members of student government and leaders of student organizations. According to a Sept. 17 email update from the Bridge, “[Leaders across campus] have a tremendous amount of influence over the health of campus community and also have a unique perspective on how sexual harassment and sexual violence affects our community.”

By intentionally reaching out to community members who carry influence in the discussion, the university shows that this measure is not simply a knee-jerk reaction to a community spotlight on a difficult issue. Instead, the administration’s efforts are purposeful and strategic in directly addressing as many community members as possible.

When a policy change occurs on campus, an easy criticism to make is that new programs will likely fall short of instituting change. The policy, the new programs, and their timing are not perfect, but if proper advantage is taken of these focus groups, then community members and leaders can take initiative in shifting the dialogue.