Administrators reflect on Obama prioritizing sexual assault

Ally Mutnick, Campus Editor

Northwestern administrators praised the continued national attention on sexual violence prevention spurred by President Barack Obama’s creation of a task force to address sexual assault on college campuses.

Obama addressed the high prevalence of sexual assault at universities in an address last week. He announced the creation of a task force, which includes officials from the office of the vice president and members of the president’s cabinet, to research and decide the best practices for tackling campus sexual violence.

The creation of the a task force is timely for NU. The University released earlier this month an updated policy on sexual assault, which offers a more expanded list of what constitutes sexual violence and a more comprehensive definition of consent. 

Additionally, a sexual assault was reported by a female student on North Campus this month, Daniel McAleer, the deputy chief for University Police, told The Daily on Monday. 

When the federal government prioritizes sexual assault response and prevention, it can spur more funding and stronger buy-in from students and university leadership, said Laura Stuart, coordinator for sexual health education and violence prevention at the Center for Awareness, Response and Education. 

“The direction that the president of the university takes impacts everyone,” Stuart said. “It’s such a huge help to have President Obama and then in turn the university presidents speak up and say ‘This is important.’”

If the increased national attention can help generate more funding for campus grants, many universities will benefit, Stuart said. A grant NU received in 2011 helped fund CARE and the University’s first full-time sexual assault survivor advocate.

Administrators noted national awareness of sexual assault on college campuses has been building in recent years. The “Dear Colleague” letter released in 2011 clarified that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 did apply to sexual violence. The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 was reauthorized in 2013, creating additional protections against sexual violence that universities must follow. 

NU’s new sexual assault policy will comply with the new requirements, Dean of Students Todd Adams said. 

Adams said he thought it would be helpful to NU and other schools if the task force could reconcile all the federal policies and demonstrate the overlap so universities can ensure they meet them adequately.

“I think the transparency of the enforcement being put forth is important,” Adams said. “If it’s what this task force comes up with, we’d have a better understanding of what we need to do and how we need to do it.”

In a White House report released Wednesday, Obama asked the task force to “promote greater coordination and consistency” among the different departments and agencies that enforce federal guidelines on campus sexual assault.

In the report, Obama also charged the task force with looking into methods used at different institutions and providing evidence-based best practices to share with all universities. Stuart said she thought the task force’s findings could help sexual assault prevention at NU.

“I would love it if they would fund research about which prevention programs are effective,” she said. “(Currently) you are just making your best guess on what will really change.”

Prevention methods do not traditionally receive as much attention as response, Adams said, noting he would be interested to see the task force look into bystander intervention, social norm marketing and other prevention programs. However, the 90-day timeline Obama gave the group to look into campus sexual assault may be too short, he said.

Obama’s focus on campus sexual assault rather than sexual assault in general is important in bringing awareness to the issue, said Medill junior Ian Robinson, a member of Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault. 

“It was super cool to see that coming from as high a level as the United States president, but also coming in a way that’s much more intelligent than just saying sexual assault is bad,” he said. “Sexual assault on college campuses is very different and needs to be treated in a different way.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @allymutnick