In 2014, the White House Task Force to Prevent Sexual Assault launched the "It’s On Us" campaign to invite everyone to join in the conversation of sexual assault and make efforts to eliminate it completely. Since the campaign’s implementation, the conversation surrounding sexual assault has expanded, but not nearly enough. Sexual assault continues to be a problem grossly embedded within society, and one of the places where sexual assault commonly prevails is on college campuses.
To effectively address the dangers of sexual assault on campus, Ramapo college issued its first ever campus-wide It’s On Us survey to students in accordance with the White House campaign in October of 2016. The survey covered a wide range of topics and assessed the overall climate of the campus. This past Wednesday, President Mercer, along with other Ramapo staff members, discussed the results of the survey and the college’s next steps in addressing these concerns in an It’s On Us Open Forum.
The forum coincided with Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and President Mercer began the forum by announcing that this month’s theme is “embracing your voice.” He acknowledged that due to the fear and shame surrounding sexual assault, statistics about sexual assault are most likely lower than they should be. He emphasized that he suspects that the rate of men who experience sexual assault is very low because of public perception surrounding sexual assault. His assumption was based off firsthand experience.
“I was sexually assaulted as a seven-year-old,” said President Mercer.
President Mercer revealed that he did not tell anyone about the assault for over 10 years, and therefore understands the importance of victims being able to embrace their voice and promoting cultural change surrounding sexual assault.
Director of Title IX, ADA and Compliance Training Kat McGee and Associate Professor of Sociology Kristin Kenneavy took the floor after President Mercer to divulge the results of the survey and what the college plans to do with the information. McGee first explained that they utilized the survey instrument, Everfi, when conducting the survey. McGee stated that they decided to use this instrument because 30 other four year institutions also used Everfi in 2016 and this allows for Ramapo to compare their results with these institutions.
A total of 6,234 students received the survey, and about 10 percent responded, according to McGee. Kenneavy stated that of the students that responded, 23 percent had experienced sexual violence before coming to college, and around 15 percent had experienced it since. Kenneavy then identified which groups of students seem to be at a higher risk for sexual assault. She revealed that about 15.5 percent of female respondents and almost 10 percent of male respondents reported being sexually assaulted at Ramapo.
“We live in a culture with a lot of toxicity. There’s toxic masculinity, toxic gender roles.” said McGee. These figures exemplified this toxicity, and to combat it, McGee explained that the college needs to raise awareness about the resources available at the college and put focus on building healthy relationships.
Kenneavy explained that the survey also revealed that students are most likely to confide in their peers when they deal with sexual assault, which exemplified the need to educate students on how to handle sexual assault as a confidant. McGee stated that they plan to “facilitate tools” to make students become active bystanders and educate them about the school’s Title IX program and ways to report.
Kenneavy also stated that students who identify as LGBTQA, sorority members and student athletes all were at an increased risk for experiencing sexual assault. McGee explained to help these communities, they are going to work on ways to target these groups specifically and find where concern lies within these groups. For example, the Prevention Education Coordinator of the Office of Violence Prevention Marie Attis-Springs explained that they have trained almost all the spring athletes on sexual assault, and that they are initiating a program where students have to go through sexual assault training before entering Greek life.
“I think that this is really pioneering something great,” said Attis-Springs of the new Greek life training program.
The survey also suggested that many students are not inclined to use services for medical treatment, reporting or advocacy, which McGee said “really breaks my heart.” Therefore, McGee explained that the college is trying to identify what is preventing students from seeking help, and breaking down these barriers.
The survey also showed that a disturbing amount of survivors’ academic careers are hindered as a result of their assault, according to Kenneavy. McGee stated that they need to make both students and faculty aware of accommodations available for students who have to deal with this trauma, and also ensure that Academic Advisors are equipped to handle these issues.
Kenneavy also revealed that in regards to the perpetration of sexual assault, non-verbal and non-physical coercion proved to be the most prevalent, despite widespread belief that sexual assault is correlated with violent enforcement from a stranger. This highlighted a need to dispel myths surrounding sexual assault, and the importance of educating people of consent and affirmative consent, according to Kenneavy.
“Any sexual conduct needs to be consensual on the part of both parties,” said Kenneavy. “Clearly our students would benefit from some in-depth information as to what that looks like.”
McGee closed by stating that they will be sharing the results of the survey with the rest of the campus, and that the college will use these results to strengthen their services to make Ramapo a safer environment for students. In the long term, McGee explained that they will be re-issuing the assessment in a few years to evaluate the effectiveness of any changes that the college makes.
“The survey forum was very informative,” said sophomore Maddison McKinney, Assistant Exhibit Coordinator in the Office of Violence and Prevention. “I think it’s really great that the campus itself is actively doing something to combat sexual violence.”