Addressing campus safety

Many in higher education are working to help student victims of rape, sexual assault, harassment, stalking and other forms of interpersonal and relationship violence. These victims are subject to their experiences being doubted and their actions being questioned, and to increasing attention from the news media.

Regardless of whether a crime happens on campus or off, between students or with staff or with people outside the college community, any incident in an individual’s life that hinders college education should be a part of our business of serving students. We devise strategies to enhance student success, and work to help students earn their degrees in the shortest amount of time and at the most affordable cost. But violations of personal safety and well-being — particularly of a sexual nature — can tragically alter the course for young women or men and deprive them of their dreams.

Well before the U.S. Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter of 2011 brought the issue of sexual assault and harassment on the nation’s campuses to national attention and prominence, The University of Texas at Arlington established ground-breaking, award-winning initiatives to keep students safer on campus and to let them know where to go for help when it’s needed.

We celebrate that foresight in our “Community That Cares” resource website to remind all of our students that we do indeed care deeply about their success during the years they are UTA Mavericks and beyond. We make certain students are aware of the website so they know where to find resources should they need to report sexual assault or misconduct, seek out counseling, enlist in drug and alcohol recovery programs and more.

Community That Cares is just one of many measures that UTA has taken to address and decrease sexual assault and misconduct incidents on campus. In 2007, UTA hired its first fulltime staff member to head the Relationship Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention Program to focus on the prevention and education of sexually related crimes and threats. Our inventory of services and programs around student safety has grown substantially since then. All incoming first-year students (freshmen and transfers) attend a New Maverick Orientation session titled “A Community that Cares.” A frank conversation with parents helps them understand the new environment in which their children are placed. Topics such as “what does consent mean?” are discussed in breakout sessions with staff-trained experts, all to help ease students’ transitions to college campus life and to prepare them for the transition to true adulthood.

UTA created the Bystander Intervention program in 2010. As one of the very first such efforts in the nation, the Bystander program won a national award in 2012 from the National Association for Student Personnel Administrators for its RVSP (Relationship Violence and Sexual Assault Program) Peer Educators. In the Bystander Intervention program, peer advocates (college-age students) are trained as first responders to sexual assault and placed as if they were live-in Residential Advisors (RAs) in campus housing. They have no RA responsibilities; rather, their sole job is to develop networks and establish non-threatening relationships so that students have the ease and access to report assaults or other sexual violence. Studies repeatedly show that victims are more likely to go to friends or others their age rather than to adults or professionals. This highly successful program has become a national model, and campuses throughout the UT System were asked to follow suit in 2016.

In addition, all incoming UTA students participate in a three-hour online interactive course that clarifies sexual assault and harassment, dating and domestic violence, stalking and related topics. Customization of this program allows us to identify students who answer “yes” to having been victimized and allows our staff to provide personal follow ups with trained advocates to ensure those students have needed help and support. The high level of engagement required makes sure that students fully participate in the course. The course allows for additional customization related to specific university policies and resources. These and other services can be found at uta.edu/communitythatcares.

As successful as our current programs have been in educating and supporting the UTA campus community, we strive to do more. Our culture of providing a caring campus extends to all UTA students, not just those who reside on or take classes on our campus. We are committed to ensuring that students recognize that we are a university that cares, and feel safe and supported in seeking services and resources regardless of whether they take classes online, on one of our satellite locations or live and attend classes on our main campus.

While this kind of violence is a nationwide problem, UTA has demonstrated that it will not be content with simply checking the boxes of Title IX legislation and requirements. Instead, we embrace our role in putting an end to sexual violence on our campus.

Heather Snow and Scott D. Ryan, University of Texas Arlington

Heather Snow is the Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Scott D. Ryan is the Dean School of Social Work at University of Texas Arlington.

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