The Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight distributed an extensive sexual assault survey Tuesday to over 350 public and private colleges and universities, including Georgetown, as a way to collect information about how institutions across the country respond to sexual assault cases on campus.
Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) was inspired to create and send out the survey from her visits to colleges in her home state. During these visits, the senator met with several university officials to discuss federal policy concerning sexual assault.
“This survey will give us an unprecedented look into exactly how our colleges and universities act — or sometimes, fail to act — to protect students and bring perpetrators to justice,” McCaskill said in a press release. “We need to ensure we have a firm grasp on the policies in place, and the reality on the ground, to inform any specific solutions. This survey is an important part of that effort.”
The Office of the President at Georgetown received the survey and forwarded it to relevant administrators for their input, including Title IX Coordinator Rosemary Kilkenny.
“I think Senator McCaskill has taken a particular interest in this area. She just wants to see justice being done and I think it is very good that Congress is taking an interest in this,” Kilkenny said. “It’s important that this issue is being addressed on the national level.”
Kilkenny has reviewed the questions in the survey and plans to meet with other administrators within the week to complete it.
“The survey makes you take another look and do a serious examination to see what can be done differently … [to see] how we could best address certain issues,” Kilkenny said.
The results of the survey will be aggregated and analyzed by McCaskill’s office to determine the future of federal action on sexual assault policy.
“The survey will probably show a hodgepodge of different practices schools are doing, a wide variation in knowledge and attitudes about sexual assault,” Sexual Assault Peer Educator Chandini Jha (COL ’16) said. “This reflects a larger confusion — willful or not — that universities have about their precise legal obligations under federal policy like Title IX.”
Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Services Coordinator Jen Schweer said that she hopes the survey would give a stronger voice to those who have experienced sexual assault.
“It’s critical that many voices are called upon to be at the table; this includes survivors and those who work with them on a day-to-day basis. These are perspectives that are crucial in informing survivor-centered policy and legislation,” Schweer wrote in an email. “My hope is that Senator McCaskill’s efforts will reflect the many people and areas already deeply involved in this work.”
The survey questions will determine whether the institution is in compliance with Title IX and Clery Act requirements, which dictate the procedure for reporting a sexual assault and provide other information pertaining to sexual assault policy.
One question on the survey asked colleges to name the spaces on campus that can provide students with information on how to file a complaint with Title IX and if the admissions office could serve as a such a space.
“That is an example of a question that we can consider. Should we put information in admissions if that is where some students reach out to for guidance?” Kilkenny said.
Under Georgetown’s current protocol, students can report sexual misconduct to confidential resources in the offices of both Health Education Services and Counseling and Psychiatric Services, the Title IX office headed by Kilkenny and the Georgetown University Police Department. A newly revised policy requires all university employees, except for specially designated confidential counselors, to report a sexual assault to the Title IX office within 24 hours after the report has been made.
Last summer, several administrators revised the Georgetown sexual assault policy, which was approved by the board of directors. The changes included creating a new policy on sexual misconduct, revising the grievance procedure and ensuring an emphasis on confidentiality.
Students expressed support for the changes that the administration has made over the last year.
“As I scrolled through the survey, I was both pleasantly surprised by the many questions I know we are now able to answer with a confirmation — questions that just one year ago we would not have been able to,” Sexual Assault Working Group member and SAPE Mabel Rodriguez (COL ’14) wrote in an email. “The addition of a mandatory sexual assault training to NSO, an explicit alcohol amnesty clause, access to information on a website — all of these have been important steps for Georgetown this year.”
Rodriguez added that the survey offered a chance to remind the university of existent problems with its sexual assault policy.
“We need to be holding our universities accountable, especially if they are going to choose to adjudicate these crimes. We all need reminders of the options we are not considering,” Rodriguez wrote.
Jha agreed that Georgetown’s current sexual assault policy still has problems, notably the lack of transparency surrounding it.
“I think the current disciplinary process can be very difficult for survivors. There is a lack of clarity on what topics are admissible for the board, though there are customary practices the hearing board uses when dealing with these issues,” Jha said. “The fact that its practices are not well publicized to the student body imposes significant barriers on survivors coming forward.”
This past year has seen increased government involvement in raising awareness about sexual assault on college campuses through efforts beyond McCaskill’s survey. In January, President Obama established the “White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault,” and the White House issued a report revealing the high sexual assault rates on college campuses.
White House officials visited Gallaudet University on Thursday as part of their nationwide university tour in honor of the 20th anniversary of Bill Clinton’s Violence Against Women Act and the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women. The event featured remarks from Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, who emphasized the importance of a coordinated response from both the federal government and from university administrators.
“While we believe that the federal government has an important role to play, we also know that the government alone cannot stop violence on campus,” Cole said. “It is essential to develop campus-based coordinated responses that include campus victim services, campus law enforcement, health providers, housing officials, administrators, student leaders, faith-based organizations, student organizations and disciplinary boards.”