University enumerates measures for preventing sexual assault
After the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Title IX Complaint against Carnegie Mellon in December, the university became one of over 50 schools in the nation under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Last week, Dean of Student Affairs Gina Casalegno sent an email to the student body detailing the university’s initiatives to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Title IX is a section of the 1972 Education Amendments that prohibits gender discrimination in education. The university allegedly failed to protect “Gabrielle” — the pseudonym given to the victim in the ACLU’s complaint — from her abusive ex-girlfriend. Gabrielle dated her assailant for six months as a first-year student, until her “girlfriend became verbally and sexually abusive,” according to an ACLU blog post.
At the end of their relationship, Gabrielle’s ex-girlfriend continued to stalk, harass, and intimidate her. The university, the complaint says, allegedly failed to hear out Gabrielle’s complaints and properly deal with the situation.
The complaint came only about six months after Carnegie Mellon revised its Sexual Assault Policy in 2013 in the wake of the spring 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter,” an open letter published by the OCR that outlined the requirements of Title IX and steps that schools should take to comply with the law.
Also in 2013, the Violence against Women Act — commonly known as VAWA — was reauthorized by Congress. VAWA, originally enacted in 1994, provides federal funding for the investigation and persecution of violent crimes against women and established the Office on Violence against Women in the Department of Justice.
Under VAWA, universities are required to report domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking; adopt certain discipline procedures for students; and adopt certain institutional policies to prevent sexual violence on campus, according to the American Council on Education’s website.
“It was a call to codify some of those things and name them in the policy,” Casalegno said to The Tartan of the “Dear Colleague” letter, mentioning that it addressed many policies that the university had in place informally but had never before stated explicitly. “And there were new best practices and new guidelines to best protect the welfare of [the] campus community.”
Carnegie Mellon’s revised sexual assault policy went into effect in 2013. It includes roles for four deputy Title IX coordinators in addition to the existing one coordinator, and changed the definition of a “reasonably prompt” response to a complaint. The new policy also changed the evidentiary standard to “preponderance of the evidence,” the lowest burden of proof; changed the composition of the Committees of Investigation based on the status of complainant and respondent; and gave student members a right to vote in the committees.
The university is also planning to hire a director and assistant director of Title IX initiatives; the director will eventually succeed the Title IX coordinator and help define the role of the assistant director.
“The trend is that universities are moving to a single investigator model,” Casalegno said. “There are times that students are not interested in proceeding criminally, and [are] able to work with someone who, most of their job is to conduct these investigations, [and is] highly trained and sensitive to the issues with survivors of sexual harassment or sexual assault.”
The sexual assault policy is only one part of the university’s continuing push for better sexual assault and harassment education and prevention. The Sexual Assault Advisory program, created in 1991 to train students, faculty, and staff in dealing with sexual assault and harassment on campus, has been revamped and renamed the Survivor Support Network (SSN).
Jessica Klein, hired about a year ago as the university’s coordinator of gender programs and sexual violence prevention, worked to shift the focus of the SSN on primary prevention. Primary prevention, Klein said, includes “education, bystander training, and effective policy,” and stands in contrast to secondary training, which is mostly “self-defense, like covering your drink when you go to a party.”
The SSN is an attempt to bring about a cultural shift at Carnegie Mellon. “I think that the Survivor Support Network teaches about rape culture, about how masculinity and gender roles really factor into violence in society, how we can be active bystanders,” Klein said. The SSN asks “How are we having conversations about these things, and not necessarily just being there for survivors, but building a community where this isn’t tolerated or accepted.”
Klein has also been working with student organizations to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment, including the Got Consent?, Campaign, an organization that recently became recognized by the university and aims to raise awareness around campus about how to prevent sexual assault and harassment.
Klein is also working with Undergraduate Student Senate. Sophomore economics major Vaasavi Unnava and junior decision science major Julia Eddy are in the process of forming a committee within Senate on sexual violence prevention at Carnegie Mellon.
Unnava and Eddy highlighted a national federal initiative, It’s On Us, which began on Friday. The campaign, Eddy said, involves over a hundred colleges and universities, and includes public relations materials “like online materials, poster you can print out — all kinds of stuff — and a pledge that you can take.”
It’s On Us, according to its website, is working to prevent sexual assault by reminding students that “It’s on us” to prevent sexual violence.
“A big part of the entire thing is that legislatively, there’s only so much you can do about sexual assault,” Unnava said. “It’s one thing to make rules, but it’s another thing to change the culture around them.”
Unnava and Eddy also plan to work with the Got Consent? Campaign and lead initiatives like “round table discussions, especially involving fraternities,” and a day of volunteering at a rape crisis center, Eddy said.
Unnava said that the university has made the necessary policy changes, and all that’s left is a change in campus culture. Part of the ongoing effort to change this culture includes changes to the university’s Orientation program.
Orientation this year included Decisions That Matter, a 90-minute session on sexual assault prevention that “addressed dating violence, personal values, and interpersonal relationships, and how that ties into building a better community,” Klein said.
“Personally what I think is important is that even though it’s a little less fun, they’re not treating sexual assault as a joke,” Unnava said of the session. “They’re more serious with the skits, [and] having Haven makes people more aware of the idea of consent, and that stereotypes and prejudices and all that sorts of stuff exists.”
This does mean, Klein acknowledged, that there will be no more Condom Man, who, dressed as a superhero, handed out condoms to students in previous Orientation programs.
Haven is an online program adopted by the university last year. The program, created by EverFi, the same company that made AlcoholEdu, teaches incoming first-year students about what sexual assault is and how to prevent it.
“Some of the main things we’re looking for are definitions; that’s a big thing,” Lauren Aikin-Smith, a health promotion specialist for University Health Services, said about the content of Haven. “It’s interactive, so people can kind of see a situation happen, and then reflect on the situation they just saw, or they just read.”
“One of the good things about Haven and AlcoholEdu is that there’s general information, but then you can put in Carnegie Mellon sexual assault policy in the program,” Aikin-Smith said.
Aikin-Smith also works with the Peer Health Advocates (PHAs), who are students that work for University Health Services and run programs to educate students about safe sex and sexual assault prevention.
Aikin-Smith also talked about Decisions That Matter, a booklet published by the university — available online and given to all first-year students — that provides definitions of sexual assault and other key terms from the perspective of both Carnegie Mellon policy and Pennsylvania state law. The booklet gives a quick overview of Carnegie Mellon’s sexual assault and sexual harassment policies, and is meant to act as a reference guide for students.
Last week, The Tartan received a letter to the Editor signed by over thirty Carnegie Mellon students and alumni that are members of an online group called Tartans for Title IX. They write that “We find it very troubling, however, that a document about sexual violence called ‘Decisions that Matter’ seems more focused on a victim’s decisions leading up to an assault than it does on telling students to make the decision not to rape someone.”
“More disturbingly, when you tell a woman that she must restrict her behavior in order to avoid being raped, what you’re really saying is that a woman should ensure that a rapist goes after someone else—and how does that help to make Carnegie Mellon an ultimately safer community?” the letter continues.
“I think there were some very technical pieces of guidance and, actually now it’s in the law… of pieces that we have to have in this brochure,” Casalegno said of the letter’s complaints, noting that there’s a contrast between Carnegie Mellon’s campus policies and Pennsylvania state law surrounding sexual assault and sexual harassment, both of which are required to be in the pamphlet by VAWA and the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, which was passed in 2013 and complements Title IX by requiring that universities are transparent and accountable in cases of sexual assault, according to its website.
“It’s a tough jump from our policy language, which is very rooted in our culture, to the state laws,” Casalegno said.
“I think that [we should do] anything we can to add to this brochure that helps people recognize that the decisions of all of us matter,” Casalegno said. “The decisions of bystanders matter tremendously. The decisions of survivors and how they want to seek support and resources and redress under our policies and our expectations on campus, they matter. The decisions of people who are making decisions not consistent with our policy, they matter.”
Casalegno stressed that she welcomed the input from students. “I will say that we can only get better if students are engaged in that dialogue, and I think that’s tremendous,” Casalegno said. “And I welcome anyone on campus with ideas of what we can be doing more of, what we can be doing differently, to absolutely speak up and come forward.”