College students across the country are heading back to campus this week for the start of the fall semester — and the return of college classes signals a renewed focus on sexual assault prevention, which dominated headlines last spring after the White House formed a task force to address the issue. Thanks to the growing movement to hold schools accountable in this area, incoming students can expect to hear a lot about sexual assault prevention when they first arrive on campus this year.
Although change is slow, activists have been cautiously optimistic that the increased national attention on campus sexual assault might nudge schools toward better policies. After all, with increasing pressure for college rankings to include information about how well schools handle rape cases, as well as with more prospective students seeking out that information on their own, administrations are likely eager to avoid bad press. It makes sense that they would want to demonstrate they’re taking this issue seriously.
The following schools are taking concrete steps to amend their policies, expand their training programs, and let new students know they want to improve:
Doane College: Students at the Nebraska school can now text a message straight to campus safety officers if they see something that looks like it might devolve into a dangerous situation. That’s part of Doane’s new bystander intervention program, “See Something? Say Something,” being rolled out this year. Administrators are also working on creating a campus climate survey to get current students’ feedback about their experiences with sexual violence.
Elon University: This year, Elon implemented a mandatory sexual assault awareness course that students will complete online. It’s similar to the alcohol awareness course that’s been in place for the past several years. “No doubt you have noticed the increased attention paid to the challenges that institutions of higher education face in responding to and preventing incidents of sexual violence,” the school’s president told incoming freshman at New Student Convocation this week. “Elon, like all college communities, is not immune to it.”
George Washington University: Orientation at GWU now includes mandatory small group discussions on issues related to sexual assault. Student activists have been pressuring the administration to implement the program for several years by now. “For a lot of the kids, this might be the first time they ever actually talk about sexual assault or what consent means in an environment with their peers,” Chandini Jha, a junior who helped lead several discussions, explained to NPR.
Indiana University: This month, Indiana University launched a new sexual assault prevention initiative that involves several different approaches to the issue. More than 6,000 posters with sexual violence definitions and resources will be plastered in bathrooms across campus. There will also be a new university website that collects all of Indiana’s resources related to sexual assault in one place; that way, it will be easier for students to navigate the system in the aftermath of an assault. The school also created a new position on campus, a “student welfare compliance coordinator,” to oversee some of these efforts.
Le Moyne College: Students at Le Moyne created a video called “No More” that tackles rape myths and covers some of the tactics for effective bystander intervention. Incoming freshmen will be required to watch the video, as well as a short skit on the topic of sexual assault, during their orientation. “We’re doing a service by helping 600 incoming freshman by saying ‘hey, this is what’s going on and you gotta be made aware of it,’” Vincent Randazzo, a senior who helped create the video, told a local news outlet.
Rutgers University: Incoming freshman at Rutgers must attend a sexual violence presentation, including a dramatization of a college party depicting a male student making persistent advances toward a visibly uncomfortable female student who isn’t sure how to get out of the situation. Although that program has been in place for several years by now, the school is making new strides in other areas. Rutgers was chosen by the White House to pilot a new student climate survey to gauge students’ experiences with rape on campus; that effort will get underway in October.
Saint Mary’s University: Last fall, SMU made national headlines after a video of incoming freshman participating in a “rape chant” — shouting “SMU boys, we like them young, Y is for your sister, O is for oh-so-tight, U is for underage, N is for no consent, G is for grab that ass” — was posted online. This year, the administration is working to do things a little differently. Incoming students will now be required to complete an online education program about consent, and they’ll be offered the chance to take bystander training programs to learn more about sexual assault prevention. This fall will also kick off a research project investigating students’ attitudes toward sexual violence and rape culture.
San Diego State University: Students returning to SDSU will have a new rape crisis advocate on campus to help respond to their needs if they’re sexually assaulted. Administrators also beefed up the information about sexual violence during orientation, extending the session on that topic from just five minutes to over half an hour long. Incoming students are required to watch a PSA created by the White House’s task force on the campus sexual assault crisis.
Stanford University: “Like universities across the country, Stanford is re-examining its approach to the problem of sexual assault to ensure we have the best possible policies and practices,” the school’s provost recently noted. There’s a task force currently preparing to make recommendations about how the school can update its sexual assault policies; in the meantime, incoming students will be required to complete a new online pre-orientation education program on sexual assault over the summer, as well as participate in new programs related to consent and bystander intervention when they get to campus in the fall.
UC Berkeley: Incoming Berkeley students will now be required to complete an online sexual assault education program during summer orientation sessions. During the welcome activities during the first few weeks of the fall semester, freshman will also participate in a sexual violence awareness program being offered for the first time. New members of the Greek system will be given additional training about consent and victim blaming, and school administrators will launch a public awareness campaign about where students can get help following an assault.
University of Virginia: UVA recently unveiled a new bystander intervention program that will help equip students with the tools they need to intervene if they see a potentially dangerous situation. The campaign includes an educational toolkit, promotional materials, and a video that teaches students how to be active bystander. All incoming students will be required to watch the video as part of orientation.