A panel of college representatives, including students, met recently to discuss an educational program aimed at preventing violence against women on campuses and toward helping victims.
The panel that met last week at the Crisis Center represented the five colleges within the Birmingham Consortium for Higher Education. The educational program, which will be funded by the United States Department of Justice through the Office of Violence Against Women, will be administered by the Crisis Center.
That agency last year was given a three-year grant of $500,000 to provide information and resources for sexual assault survivors attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Samford University, Birmingham-Southern College, the University of Montevallo and Miles College.
The meeting was led by Jonathan Davis, an associate professor in the Department of Family Studies at Samford University. He aims to raise awareness of the program by reaching out to students, one group at a time, to participate in bystander engagement. “In any case of sexual violence, there are at least 20 bystanders that could’ve done something,” Davis said. He also provided some perspective for the focus on sexual assault and dating violence on campus. “There has been a cultural shift in how issues, such as violence against women, are viewed,” he said. In Alabama, progress is being made.
This year, student activists from all over the country are attracting media attention for filing complaints with the U.S. Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights claiming that their colleges have not met the standards of Title IX. Survivors of sexual assault claim that their universities discouraged them from reporting, gave perpetrators less severe punishments, or failed to report the crime altogether.
Title IX, which became law in 1972, explicitly prohibits sexual discrimination and harassment within all federally funded schools. Because of these activists, institutions across the country are feeling the pressure to listen and take action against these violent crimes. Newer complaints have additionally been filed under the Clery Act, a federal law that requires universities to provide periodic campus crime reports.
In Birmingham, through the grant, male and female students will be given educational resources to help them identify and combat sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking through such first-year programs as orientations and University 101 classes, as well as through working with law enforcement, counseling centers and student life coordinators. Davis does not want these programs to be limited to first-year students, however. “It’s my goal to make sure that all incoming students, international, transferring and even graduate students, receive this information at their orientations as well,” he said.
Another main goal is to engage all students and faculty by implementing “empowered bystander programs” to encourage them to report warning signs to the police or a counselor. “The grant provides training and support to help campuses assess current judicial processes and policies. There is a focus on improving safety on campuses and training law enforcement,” said Meg McGlamery, director of the Rape Response program at the Crisis Center. “Truly, this grant provides the opportunity for the colleges to share resources and best practices, gain understanding and provide appropriate education, training and resources,” she added.
Coordinated Community Research Teams (CCRTs) have been created for each campus to assess specific needs for the specific schools with the assistance of the appointed campus coordinator, Allison Dearing, who formerly worked with the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Because each campus is unique, we know we can’t approach it as a one-size-fits-all model,” says McGlamery. “There is a larger CCRT that brings all campuses and community partners together to collaborate and support one another in efforts.”
Currently, the UAB Police Department provides programs, under the direction of Officer Tonya Webb, assisting survivors of sexual assault with campus escort services, Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) classes and a Victims Awareness Assistance Program to assist survivors with legal issues. McGlamery looks forward to working closely with the UABPD “in a more meaningful and sustainable way,” she said. “We have always served as a resource, but we now have a specific person completely dedicated to these critical issues. I am thankful that the campuses all signed on to this effort and trust the Crisis Center to help support them in their efforts.”
The University of Alabama’s Women’s Resource Center adopted a program similar to UAB’s in 1999. According to Cathy Andreen, director of media relations at UA, their grant “allowed for the expansion and later institutionalization of many of the projects that enhanced programs to address interpersonal violence on our campus.” The grant for Birmingham differs because it was applied for as a consortium with seven community partners.
The women’s center at UA, established in 1993, offers counseling, victim advocacy, support groups, 24-hour crisis response and educational services. Andreen believes that “Recent legislative changes to the Clery Act and the current national climate shift refocusing attention on Title IX provisions make this a time of opportunity for all campuses to sharpen outreach and services and continue to develop resources.”
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately one-fourth of female college students (ages 18 to 24) will be assaulted. McGlamery’s goal is to “increase knowledge, awareness and understanding with administrators, staff, law enforcement and the community.” She also hopes that this grant will lead to more victims coming forward and reporting instances of violence. “We want people to know that it is not their fault, they did not deserve for this to happen, and that there is help, no matter how long ago it happened,” she says.
That increased reporting will make assault numbers rise on campus. “Some people may see this and think college campuses are not safe. Actually, we know this is happening everywhere. Those increased numbers show that they are a campus that feels safe enough for survivors to come forward to report and get help,” she says.
“My hope is that people really get that this is real, that survivors don’t cause or deserve it,” McGlamery says. “We must stand with them and provide access to resources to help heal, including the best policies, judicial processes and response.”